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It's time for the wine world to rejoice as a fresh collection of Beaujolais nouveau reaches the market.
By Chris Sherman, Times Staff Writer
Published November 15, 2007
Every year a small group of French farmers and giant wine brokers squeeze a few gamay grapes, bottle a light red wine and send it around the globe, delighting wine lovers for one special day. Or not.
Today is the day when trucks unload the 2007 Beaujolais nouveau, crushed just six weeks. Wine drinkers from Paris to Tokyo to Tampa Bay will get their first sip of this year's vintage.
The biggest day of the wine year raises issues as well as glasses: Is this year's any good? What does it say of the vintage for wines that will be aged? And increasingly, is it worth the fuss?
Foolish questions for Frenchman Dominique Christini . He'll open bottles in and outside Cafe Largo today and all weekend for tastings and sit-down dinners. Call (727 596-6282 for more details.)
"Beaujolais nouveau is like a first love. It's young, it's inexperienced and it won't last long. So, have it now," the chef says.
If it is not serious wine for wine snobs, good nouveau is an easy drink that pleases a wide rage of palates and is a perfect match for the Thanksgiving table.
Those bigger questions ask a lot of a simple $10 wine from a modest region. Beaujolais vineyards lie between famous Burgundy and the renowned Rhone. While the neighbors grow prestigious pinot noir and syrah grapes, Beaujolais depends on the less noble gamay.
It makes a lighter red, fruity and inexpensive, that is round, not too dry, sharp or heavy, with flavors from cherry and berries to pepper and spice .
Those gamay wines stock the hearty bistros of Lyon, which also have a taste for the lightest and thinnest version, the wine made each year from a portion of the first crush.
Yet the traditional non-nouveau Beaujolais, released six months later in the spring after normal crushing and aging, can be rich drinking. At $15 or less from the best vineyards in the better years, they're great value.
If too much is made of nouveau, the Beaujolais asked for it some 50 years ago. Demand for the first pressings had been local until the 1950s. Then shippers and publicists exploited it with stunts like racing wine to Lyon and Paris, then London and beyond.
Eventually airfreight delivered the new vintage worldwide on the same day. Even Florida groceries hang posters of can-can dancers announcing "Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive."
When signs go up today, Tampa Bay drinkers can sample the 2007s and get aromas of roses or sour orange and tastes of lemon drops or cotton candy.
Heavy rains all summer threatened this year's grapes but a warm, dry September may have restored and ripened the crop.
If the first fruits did well, later Beaujolais will too. It does not predict for all of France unless the wine is exceptional as it was in 2005 and 2003.
Naysayers include some retailers and exporters, who feel the nouveau is not worth the hype or hassle, detracts from better wines and is too frivolous.
But of course, defenders say happily. "It's a great excuse for a party," says Michael Roberts at Vintage Wine Cellars in south Tampa.
"We'll have every label we can find," says Rochelle Smith of A Taste for Wine in downtown St. Petersburg, who counts today as the start of the holidays. Nearby, Tastings, A Wine Experience will have flights of Beaujolais grades from nouveau to cru.
At Wine Warehouse, some staffers will wear berets, striped shirts, scarves and French name tags. Jacquie Man at the Palm Harbor store, said "I'll be Jacqueline, mais oui."
That's the spirit, Christini of Cafe Largo says. "Wine is supposed to be about fun not stress."
Chris Sherman can be reached at (727) 893-8585 or e-mail email@example.com.
How is the 2007 nouveau?
Chris Sherman will report his tasting of the first bottles of the 2007 Beaujolais nouveau from various labels as he samples them around the Tampa Bay area today and through the weekend.
Look for his critique of his first sips this evening at dining.tampabay.com. Add your tasting notes and thoughts, too.
Not so nouveau
Beaujolais nouveau is only the first fraction of each year's wine from the region in eastern France.
The nouveau wine is made quickly from the first juice and kept for a brief period on the skins. Most Beaujolais is made differently, kept in barrels and tanks to age longer and released each spring as a bigger, older red wine. It comes in three grades that sell year-round for $6 to $15:
- Beaujolais: The common wine blended from vineyards through the region.
- Beaujolais Villages: A better wine made from grapes harvested in a group of designated villages of good vineyards.
- Cru Beaujolais: The best wines, each made in one single village, whose name appears on the bottle. They include Julienas, Chenas, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly, Morgon, Moulin a Vent, Moulin a Vent and Saint-Amour.
[Last modified November 15, 2007, 01:27:29]