Beaujolais Nouveau is officially released--and rushed to its thirsty public--at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of each November. I didn't make it to a Nouveau party this year, and only this weekend did I get around to drinking my first sample of the vintage--touted as the best of the last 50 years. These "vintage of the century" calls seem to be ever more frequent these days; I recall similar claims being made for 2000, 2003 and 2005.
The 2009 is an impressively purplish color, and the intense raspberry aromas waft up even as the wine is being poured. The fruit is fresh and lively, lush but not overly ripe. It's a wine that works well as an appetizer or even with a serious meal such as beef bourguignonne.
It's fashionable in some wine circles to dismiss Beaujolais wines, and that may be partly because of the marketing efforts connected with Beaujolais Nouveau. Beaujolais is part of the Burgundy region of France, but red wines there derive from the Gamay rather than the Pinot Noir grape. Because Gamay is thin-skinned, it produces wines that are relatively low in fruit tannins and easy to drink young. Nouveau, comprising about one third of the harvest every year, is made by the carbonic maceration method, with whole grape fermentation to preserve the fresh fruit qualities. According to the traditional rule of thumb, Nouveau is to be consumed over the first six weeks of its life, although some 2009 Nouveaus will continue to offer pleasure into the first few months of 2010. Any Nouveau still on the shelves by next Spring should be deeply discounted (my son bought the 2008 at a closeout price of two bottles for $5). That same rule of early drinking does not apply to other wines from the Beaujolais region. The next step up, Beaujolais Villages, ages well over two or three years, and the Beaujolais Cru, particularly Moulin a Vent and Morgon, much longer--developing complexity and depth approaching that of a fine Pinot Noir Burgundy.