Every November 14, Americans herald the arrival of a traditionally lovely, charming, fun little French wine with parties in airport hangars. I've only been to one Beaujolais Nouveau party in Wisconsin, but I imagine they're all the same: fancy people in velvet clothes and heels feeding on baked brie and apricots, standing around waiting for the wine shipment to arrive from France to Madison, New Orleans, New York (or any other decent-sized town that contains enough wine lovers to mandate a welcoming party for a short-lived red wine). I, of course, wear cotton and wool, lots of layers, and sensible shoes, because I don't want to lower the efficiency of my immune system by spending the November evening in an airport hangar.
Every year's Beaujolais is different. Two years ago it tasted like turpentine with an Alka-Seltzer added to it. Last year, it reminded me of cheap grape jelly, which can be fine in certain circumstances. In 2000, it tasted salty. I think I liked 1999 a lot, but I can't remember it well. I remember that I bought a lot of it for Thanksgiving dinner with Alyssa but I'm certainly not the type to keep a "wine journal," so I don't remember anything else about it. Nouveau is easy to come by in New Orleans, of course. Easy to find in Brooklyn, where huge posters are hung outside every bistro and haute cuisine restaurant advertising availability. Several chateaux produce Nouveau, but for the past two years, I've only been able to locate George DuBoeuf's. His is the Nouveau with the terrible label, traditionally a brightly colored Matisse rip-off with a clunky serifed font. Gold leaf. Awful label and (usually) a mediocre wine.
Columbia, Missouri. Several days after the release. We made the first shipment of items into my new house (which looks totally different in daylight...neighborhood looks rundown...stairs leading to the basement are about to fall apart...bike tire stains on the matte finish walls...frog bath mat might not fit in the bathroom....yes, I wanted an old home, I remind myself, and a smaller ecological footprint.). After a brief meeting with my charming landlady (Molly, ever sweet, growled at her), after listening to loathesome Top 40 music pumped from the porch across the street, after assessing the invasive species populations alive and well in my new backyard, after defying physics to fit a 1930s oak desk into the study, after watching my poor little dog slip and slide all over my wonderful hardwood floors that I so earnestly desired, I, guilt-stricken, scared of change, overwhelmed by the exotics and hopeful that the new neighborhood really isn't that tough, decided to foray into the downtown wine shop in search of Beaujolais Nouveau from whichever available chateau.
Columbia's great. Fabulous restaurants. Bike paths everywhere (but not on the major thoroughfares, where another cyclist was killed this week). Progressive politics. Curbside recycling. Urban green spaces, actively managed. Really good service, where folks behind the counter look you in the eye and say "hey, thanks..." Top notch university (It's no Kansas, but close). Big oaks. Rolling hills. And TWO wine shops within a stone's throw apart.
"You should really just pay a few dollars more for the Villages." Pardon? "Yeah, I only stock DuBoeuf because Nouveau isn't that good, overall."
"Yeah, but it's the tradition...," I countered, "Villages is like selling out. There are better ones than DuBoeuf. And that label...." When Nouveau ages past 2or 3 months, it's called Beaujolais Villages and is available for years. It's fine, really, but it's no Nouveau, which can only be properly consumed between November 14 and Christmas. The aging process alters Nouveau, which is made from delicate little grapes in one part of France. I don't know what happens to all of those unsold Nouveau bottles purchased by wine shops countrywide. In New Orleans, the stores just put them on sale for $8.99 the day after Christmas for the folks who really don't care. Magically, by New Year's Eve, they're gone.
The sommelier returned to the fancy people drinking Petite Syrah out of a decanter. I scoured the place, sure that I would find a hidden case of Joseph Drouhin's classic off-white, engraved Nouveau label. I found some outrageously priced Oregon pinot noirs that I'll never get to try and some interesting wines that Alyssa and I have tried together that I'll definitely invest in later. But in the whole store, only one Nouveau. He didn't really have a reason to lie to me about it, did he...
I'll never be able to make it to the downtown wine shop's daily 5pm tasting with my new job, but I really wanted to introduce myself, to let the fancy sommelier know that even though he disappointed me today with his solitary Beaujolais, and even though I looked like a hayseed in jeans, that I'd be back with questions and a checkbook. I admit it. I cook with wine. I like it. I consume it. Considering that here, in southeast Missouri, I'm still trying to manage bags upon bags of recyclable glass by lying to the Cape County Recycling Commission (who regularly asks, "so, you drink wine, olive oil and no beer? And you live in Cape?"), that Beaujolais Nouveau bottles from 2005 are still languishing in my garage, I imagine in Columbia, they'll know my name and maybe even order a better Beaujolais Nouveau next year with my bidding. Of course, I'll be able to recycle every bottle I drink without having to lie about my address, too.
Oh! Right! DuBoeuf's Nouveau is fine this year. Better than last. More pinot than not, which is key. Who knows about the other great chateaux. I bet you can find them in St. Louis.