November is my favourite month of the wine year.
While it is the month where we have to acknowledge, especially in the Yukon, that we are plunging irretrievably into the depths of darkness and winter, at the same time there is a day that for me is the harbinger of the holiday season.
That day promises the beginning of the season where we gather with friends and family to celebrate … whether it be Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukah, New Year’s or a multitude of other events.
That day is the third Thursday of November.
Cast your imagination forward 10 time zones to Paris, France. At 6:00 on the morning of the third Thursday of this month, bistros will open and their owners will put out chalk board signs that read, “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!”
People will stop for a glass of wine on their way to work, to taste the first wine of the 2008 French vintage, the “New Beaujolais.”
And around the world, including in the Yukon, wine enthusiasts can participate in this same experience, though perhaps a few days later.
Now, some of the excitement of the Beaujolais Nouveau is the result of good marketing over the past 20 years or so. Wine maker Georges Duboeuf is the largest and most successful of the bottlers of Beaujolais Nouveau and his organization has expended much energy in making the release each year a media sensation.
Cases of Beaujolais Nouveau have been expressed by Concorde at one minute after midnight, special limited-edition painted bottles have been released and each year the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau label is a slightly different design.
Despite the marketing hoopla, I am a fan, for a number of reasons.
Perhaps first and foremost is that it generates excitement about wines and it is an excitement that can be easily shared.
Imagine, when you taste this wine, only three short months earlier, its grapes were on the vine. And now you, too, can get the first preview of the 2008 vintage.
Secondly, this is a very approachable wine … young and fruity and just fun.
I have offered this as a first red wine to introduce to friends who have previously only drunk whites.
The soft, simple flavours are approachable and being able to tell them a story about the wine, that it is the first release of the year and they are partaking in a shared experience with wine enthusiasts around the world, gives an added element of interest to the experience.
And third, it is an experience of a particular moment in time and yet one that can be repeated yearly.
I find these rituals comforting and happy and they conjure happy memories of other November evenings when I have shared this wine with people I have loved and cared for all the way back to my university years and over the successive decades, in very different parts of the world.
So now I look forward to continuing to build those happy memories in my home in the Yukon.
The wine itself is made from the Gamay grape, in the Beaujolais region of eastern France. It is fermented rapidly in order to have it ready to sell in November.
This is a wine intended to be drunk young and I have heard it said that it should all be consumed by New Year’s.
While it can be held for longer (but not more than a year), I think of it as a wine of the moment, to be enjoyed at this particular time of the year.
It is nice as a starter wine for an evening, with cheese and crackers, but also works well with stews and, surprisingly, roast chicken or turkey.
I’m not sure how much it will be sold for, but I seem to recall it being priced in Whitehorse at around $15.00 a bottle last year.
Please note that there are some other, excellent, red wines from the Beaujolais region of France that are well worth trying, but this article focuses specifically on the Beaujolais Nouveau.
So check your local liquor store a day or two after the third Thursday of November and buy two bottles. One for you to taste and share with someone special and the second to make a terrific and timely gift for a holiday party that you attend.
But make sure to tell them what makes it special (first release of the 2008 vintage, released on the third Thursday, etc) and make sure that they know it should be drunk young, not aged.
I’ll be stopping by the liquor store myself to get a couple of bottles. Maybe I’ll see you there.
One other note: I have met a terrific fellow wine enthusiast here in town, Francis Pelletier. He has started a French and English language blog on food and wine, which can be found at http://starsandsun.wordpress.com and is also writing for the L’Aurore Boréale French language paper here in Whitehorse.
He and I are embarking on the first of several dinners where we will taste wines together and each write about our impressions for our respective readers. Tonight will be cheese and chocolate fondues with accompanying wines. I’ll keep you posted.
Peter Turner is a wine enthusiast who once had the dream job of selling wine at a store that carried 4,500 varieties.