Friday, 27 November 2009

Prime beef from du Boeuf?

Ok, let’s be honest. I didn’t think that Beaujolais Nouveau (Georges Du Boeuf 2009, Waitrose £5.99, 12.5%) would bring back some fond memories or a wry smile to my face, as I foist it onto my brother and Dad for the latest wine tasting. It isn’t really a bad wine, it is just not meant to be a classic wine, merely a quaffable, lightweight, trouble free wine (we can leave the ‘trouble’ to the chefs on the other side of the room).

I remember the very first time I tasted Beaujolais Nouveau. It was 1985, and I was five years away from legal drinking (you work it out). It was magical. The world of wine had not yet opened up to me, but a visit to London, trips to the Hamley’s, Madame Tussaud’s, the Tower and the Grande Dame of hotels, the Savoy, for a party to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day, made me feel special and grown up, as if my birthday and Christmas had come early. It was the first time Dad allowed me a glass to myself, and the last time we went out together as a family.

Now, I realise there may be a raised eye-brow or two using the word ‘magical’, though 1985 was a reasonably good year for Beaujolais Nouveau; but, there is something extraordinary about harvesting and producing wines with such a quick turnaround, sometimes under six weeks.

Back in Bath, the present, the kitchen, while Dad and Ben between them heatedly fuss over the supper (it is only a chicken!), my glass is sitting waiting for my attention. The eyes are immediately drawn to the wonderful and pure beetroot juice colouring of this wine; a rich, staining purple-red which leaves a crown of coloured legs when it is swilled around the glass, and a distinctive clear rim when settled.

Bringing the glass up to the nose, the first surprise comes from a rounded, rich cassis aroma. Why a surprise? Normally, there is a lighter cherry note that comes from the Gamay grape, which is what this wine is made from. Here, initially, perfumes of darker fruits come to the fore. This cloudy cassis gives way to some hints of fresh strawberry and then old familiar characteristic smells of Beaujolais Nouveau start to come through: those perfumed, lighter red fruits.

Beaujolais is famed for its unique fermentation process that boosts the flavours; carbonic maceration or whole grape fermentation. First discovered by Louis Pasteur (yes, the milk man), the whole grapes are put in a sealed vat where carbon dioxide is pumped in to start the fermentation process before pressing. This process enhances the aromas and flavours giving it a jammy, sweeter element to the tasting process, taking your senses on a journey from cherry and berry to banana, jams, bubblegum, pear drops and kirsch. The flavours are all in there in various bottles (and, OK, I admit it. I even had a sniff from the top of this bottle to double check my nose was working!)

The second surprise is on the palate. Creaminess hits the tongue in the first instance, bringing with it cassis and darker berry notes. Taking another sip, it is followed by a powdery, cloudy mouth filling strawberry. Contrasting to the fruity flavours are some stalkier, flintier elements, reminding just how young and green the wine is. The flintiness comes from the granitic and schist based soil on which these grapes are grown. Giving it a rather pencil lead note to the palate, rather than for example, a clay soil which hints at more leathery, leafy tones. Either way, it emphasises the acidity for which the wine is well known and its lack of serious tannins.

Coming back to the glass after resting for an instant; there are some sour cherries emphasising the high acidity, drawing in the cheeks and making the mouth water. The sweet fruits are brought further forward as the glass reaches room temperature. Again, summer fruits, ‘cherry lips’ sweets (does anyone remember those?), and jam, meet berry and sharpness. Throw in a chalky, powder puff of perfume that seem to fill the mouth and you have this year’s blend; hailed as being the best primeur in fifty years.

Georges du Boeuf is a master of turning the commercial into something a little bit more exceptional, the ordinary into something a bit more extraordinary. Beaujolais Nouveau Day is said to be down to him. So, this year’s results are surprisingly enjoyable, but let’s not get too excited. We are not talking a well rounded Margaux here, or a rich and mellow Chateau Neuf du Pape. Good value? I would say yes, but with a BUT. £6 is nowadays not a lot to spend on a bottle of wine, in fact, wine at that price is cheap (and I am always looking for bargains in these days of thrift).

My point is that you have to take Beaujolais Nouveau in context. As I said at the beginning, it is a quaffing wine, not a quality wine, so this year you are getting something that is better than average for a reasonable price; it just isn’t a bargain. But, drink it with, for instance, a succulent roast chicken (like the one that is waiting for me the other side of the kitchen, if the boys stop fighting), or the Thanksgiving turkey (which comes a week later than Beaujolais Nouveau Day), and the acidity will bring out the sweetness of the flesh. The fruit will contrast well with the salted skin, the creaminess and the butter. Then, maybe, you are talking about money well spent.