November 22, 2005

You Can't Teach a New Wine Old Tricks

by peterb

You've got to hand it to the French. They have managed to turn what is traditionally a completely unimportant thing — the shipping of the season's first Beaujolais Nouveau — into an "event."

Beaujolais Nouveau is a cheap French wine that is meant to be drunk young. It is, along with straw-bottle Chianti, the definition of cheap wine. It's a good wine to have around, because even if you're not in the mood to drink Beaujolais Nouveau, you can usually put it to other uses, such as helping flush small items down your garbage disposal, or to bathe the cat in, or to degrease a bike chain.

I want to be crystal clear: there is nothing, nothing wrong with cheap wine. Cheap wine is good. I mock Beaujolais Nouveau because I love it. Or, loved it. Now because the start of the "season" is an "event," we live in a world where a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau costs more than $10. This, more than anything else, is a sign that the world we live in has gone utterly, completely, barking mad.

The worst thing about this, of course, is having the conversation with my wine merchant about this. "$12? For Beaujolais Nouveau?" "Oh, yes, sir. It's very good. This is going to fly off the shelves." "It's Beaujolais Nouveau. It's best used to rinse your teeth after brushing." "Well, it's very popular this year, sir."

To be fair, and to show that for once I am not just picking on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board like I usually do, I will mention that this first batch (the "air shipment") is priced extravagantly pretty much everywhere. If your state allows in-state shipping, you can save a few dollars by buying at a large wholesaler, such as Sam's, or by using my personal favorite mail-order wine store, Pop's Wine.

Despite my disbelief over the price, I took one for the team and bought a bottle of the 2005 George Duboeuf Beaujolais Nouveau. For $12 a bottle. Damn it to hell.

My capsule review is: that was $12 I will never see again. If there is any justice in the world, you will all feel sorry for me and click madly on the sponsored Google Links to try to help me recover at least some of that money. And also to compensate me for my pain and suffering.

The pain and suffering is not because the wine itself is somehow inherently terrible — it's really neither better nor worse than your average Beaujolais Nouveau — but for the opportunity cost that spending $12 on a bottle of this grape juice engenders. $12 will get you a fine cheap Rosemount Shiraz. Or a low-end Ruffino Chianti. Or three bottles of Charles Shaw, a.k.a. "Two Buck Chuck". All of which are better than this wine.

The color is the grape-juicey purple one expects from a wine of this type. The aroma is fruity and seems extremely tannic. On hitting your tongue, though, those fruit and tannins aren't actually there. You don't taste either. What you taste, instead, is just an in-your-face — and unpleasant — acidity. The wine is slightly effervescent, which is fine, but somewhat attenuated and chemical, which is not. There's no finish to the wine at all. I don't mean a "quick finish" or a "short tail," I mean none whatsoever. The wine gets to the back of your mouth and sort of teleports down to your stomach, leaving you wondering what the hell just happened.

So it's not a very pleasant wine to drink by itself, but then to make up for that, it doesn't match well with food either.

If this wine cost 5 dollars a bottle, you would shrug your shoulders and say "Hey. It's cheap wine. Whaddya want? Pour me another glass." But it didn't cost 5 dollars a bottle. It cost more than a number of perfectly drinky varietals. The wine doesn't leave a bitter taste in your mouth — it doesn't leave any taste in your mouth — but this knowledge does.

Did I mention you could buy 3 (or more, if you're lucky) bottles of Two Buck Chuck for the price of one bottle of 2005 George Duboeuf "air shipment" Beaujolais Nouveau? I'm just checking.

To add injury to insult, the wine left me with a hangover that made me feel like Robert Downey Jr. on his first day of rehab. I had another glass tonight because, apparently, I hate life, and the headache is back. Perhaps it is just my conscience, causing me psychic pain because I paid $12 for a $5 bottle of a wine.

In conclusion, don't buy this wine. Unless you are someone that I despise, in which case, Ó votre santÚ! Buy an entire case!

Posted by peterb at November 22, 2005 07:50 PM | Bookmark This

The Beaujolais Villages Primeur is priced around € 4 over here. Sad bastards. $ 12... I wouldn't give it for it. Most definitely not.

Posted by Frenzie at November 23, 2005 06:53 AM

hi peter - i feel your pain. it's kool-aid, i tell ya. but as a marketing person, i must tip my hat to the sheer marketing brilliance the French have shown here, something that is loathed in this neck of the woods and spoken about in hushed tones in the corners of dark smoky bars. it's the great american way (that is so scorned, but secretly envied here). take nothing and make it something, then market the hell out of it and overcharge. starbucks - $4.50 for a CUP OF COFFEE?!?! but as you said, you "took it for the team". consider it market research, R&D, and write it off on your taxes! maybe recoup a few of those 12 dollars ;-)

Posted by laura @ cucina testa rossa at November 23, 2005 08:54 AM

Uh, oh....

We'd better scratch the Beaujolais Nouveau for Thanksgiving dinner and break out the bottle of Charles Shaw we've been saving for a really special occasion.

Posted by Mom at November 23, 2005 11:53 AM

You know, if you drink the whole bottle in one sitting like I do, you'll have just 1 hangover, not 2 --

Posted by green LA girl at November 23, 2005 07:06 PM

See, I just knew there was something I liked about the way you think.

Posted by peterb at November 24, 2005 05:12 AM

So what happens to old Beaujolais Nouveau? Does it turn into regular (or possibly "vieux") Beaujolais, or does it just get gross?

See, because someone brought me a bottle about 10 years ago that we didn't use. Now I've moved it twice, unable to throw out an unopened bottle of wine. If I hear it's crap, I might just pitch it.

Then again, if you want to be in on the experiment (since I have no designs on being any type of wine expert, even self-appointed), we could invite you over to try it....

Posted by erin k at November 26, 2005 04:08 PM

I had a cousin (not the one I'd like to marry), who worked for a cookie company. Keebler, I think it was, back when they made those impossibly chewy cookies (Soft Batch?) that had a touch too much baking soda in them and enough MSG to make you eat the entire container of cookies in one sitting. Cousin worked on the packaging line. The company had a rule that all new employees could eat as many cookies as they wanted within their first week of employment. The natural end result was gorging and taste aversion, thus causing less theft on the line. (In theory, that is. I'm not sure it worked for them or if the story is true.)

The local Trader Joe's here in Eugene, OR sells cases of Charles Shaw for 4.99. My fiance had a case waiting for me when I got here. Now, as we check out in the store, I try not to look at the wall of cases lining the front end of the store. Just one glance at that red and white label makes my esophagus burn.

Posted by pghgirlinexile at November 29, 2005 05:03 PM

Jferro always told me that the name for that was "Sauce Bearnaise Syndrome."

Me, I've got that with "Munchos", a form of potato non-chip.

Posted by peterb at November 29, 2005 06:41 PM

1. Beajolais Nouveau doesn't last much beyond May of the following year. Toss that 10-year-old bottle.

2. BN with turkey is pretty good.

3. You paid $12 for a bottle of BN? Ahahahahaha.

Posted by Dr. Click at November 30, 2005 04:35 PM

Thanks to Google, I found your comments on BN, and its saving me at least $2.99. It's mid-April, yes my taxes are done, and my favorite liquor store has sent me an email with an online special of Beaujolais Nouveau for $2.99 a bottle, normal price $7.99. I didn't know what kind of wine this was until I read your column. Thanks for steering me clear of this.

Posted by DaveK at April 13, 2006 11:40 PM

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