The Life of Wine

 |  October 31, 2011

As the echoes of midnight church-bells fade across the vineyards of Burgundy on the 17th of next month, something remarkable is going to happen. Millions of bottles of wine will begin a sprint from the tiny villages of Beaujolais to the French capital, where cargo jets, engines running, will be waiting to transport them to every corner of the globe. The race to be the first to shout: ‘Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!’ will be on.

The idea of racing the wine to Paris was born after négociants – the guys who collect unfinished wine from small producers and sell it in bottles bearing their own labels – realised that juice, which was meant to be quaffed by locals in celebration of the end of the year’s harvest, could be used to generate an enormous amount of cash. The idea caught on, and the scramble to be the first to crack open a bottle of Nouveau has now spread from the Americas to Asia.

Although there are a number of négociants in Beaujolais, none is more prominent than Monsieur Georges Duboeuf. Feelings about the man, and his tireless marketing of a rather thin, insipid juice, which has come to misrepresent the whole of the region, are mixed. However, there is no denying that he really grabbed hold of the idea of making the wine a ‘must have’ as soon as it was available in the autumn, and beat the f$#k out of it.

The wine was originally not supposed to be sold before 15 December, but the French authorities relaxed the release date to the 15 November a few years after the war. When they realised that people are more cavalier with the contents of their wallets, and better disposed to dealing with hangovers at weekends, the date was changed to the third Thursday in November.

Beaujolais Nouveau is barely a wine, and I sometimes worry that it’s not sure whether it’s supposed to be red or white. Just a few weeks before corks are popping around the world this pinkish plonk is a grape. Snatched from the vines, the berries are fermented whole for a very short time so that hardly any tannin – the stuff that gives red wine much of its character – is extracted from the skins. This means that it is extremely light and fruity. It also needs to be drunk as soon as possible, slightly chilled, because it is only made to live for a few months.

The fact that Beaujolais Nouveau is released in time for Thanksgiving in the US meant that Monsieur Duboeuf needed to open a second bank account. Anyone looking to purchase one of his bottles will not have too much trouble next month as, for one, most of the bottles on the shelf are likely to be his, and, for another, they will all have abstract, brightly coloured labels stuck on them.

Now, I have nothing against Beaujolais Nouveau except for a couple of tiny niggles. Firstly, it doesn’t really taste that good. Secondly, people tend to associate all of Beaujolais with Duboeuf’s Nouveau when there are 10 crus in the region, which have absolutely nothing at all to do with it, producing some very swiggable wines. Thirdly, the desire to make quick cash from an alcoholic fruit juice has meant massive over production. This year, millions of bottles of the 2010 vintage will be destroyed at the behest of the French authorities, which makes me a bit sad.

However, Beaujolais Nouveau is fun, like candy-floss, and as I’ve mentioned before, when wine stops being fun it’s time to put the cork back in the bottle. It is also an excellent choice for those wanting to make a transition from white to red, because it really isn’t sure which one it is, and it would go great with mama noodles.

CityWine is the new wine initiative by Citylife. During the last quarter of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, CityWine organised a number of wine-focussed events supporting local establishments while stocking up the wine fridges of many wine buyers at well under retail prices.

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