The crowd waiting outside the LCBO on Rideau Street shuffled a bit as lights went on inside….muffled laughter and low key snippets of conversation could be heard as people tried to contain their excitement…a few coughs on a nippy Ottawa morning…the weak November sun barely warming the hundreds of wine lovers eagerly awaiting the release of the 2010 Beaujolais Nouveau. The large banners announcing the wine’s arrival hung limply in the breezeless morning air while television cameras and radio announcers darted about, gathering quotes from the excited Ottawans: “Is this your first time?” “What do you think of the Italian Novellos vs. the more traditional French?”” Where did you tell your boss you were this morning?” “Are you missing work or classes?” A few local celebrities could be seen in the crowd; the parking lot was full of SUVs, mini vans and the odd car with red diplomatic license plates.
Myself? I had been honest and told my colleagues that I would be at the Beaujolais Nouveau release and would be late to the office last Thursday morning. I had been excitedly tweeting about it for a day or two. My little Echo’s trunk had been emptied of its usual detritus, ready to receive its precious cargo.
Finally, an LCBO employee appeared at the door and the crowd ebbed forward in that unique Canadian way: a little jockeying and a little elbowing, but nothing too overt. There was a brief hesitation as the mass paused at the threshold, wondering, “would the wine be near the front or downstairs in the Vintages section?” Spying the cases stacked near the Information desk, the group dashed as one to the carts, before veering sharply left, almost in formation, to the Beaujolais display.
What fun! What a thrill! What joy to be the first to reach the cases; to be the first to raise a bottle to the light: the cheerful, colourful label, the purple-pink contents almost see-through in its youth…every moment of delight worth the sleepless night, the re-balancing of the usual already hectic morning schedule, the long wait in the winter cold….
Unfortunately, only nine of us actually waited outside the LCBO on that early November 18th morning.
I was the only person who headed to the Beaujolais display…no pomp, no ceremony, no excited oohs and ahhs…just me and my shopping cart and a nice gentleman to help me to the car.
I remember, 16 years ago, when I moved into an apartment on Clarence Street, next-door to the old Vintages (coincidence, I assure you…I could certainly not afford to shop there): the long, long lines waiting for the Nouveau Release….the LCBO running out of the French bottles…the news coverage…a delicious dinner in a French restaurant, awash in Beaujolais.
Nouveau comes out of the tradition of it being the first wine produced from that year’s harvest – a few weeks from vine to table. In today’s world, where it is always summer somewhere, the line between harvest and first wine is blurred. South Africa is planting next year’s 2011 crop when Europe is harvesting its 2010….what then, is first?
Despite the loss of the hype, or perhaps because of it, I still look forward to the third Thursday in November. For me, that day is a last ray of sunshine before we sink into the depths of another Ottawa winters.
This year, the LCBO’s Beaujolais Nouveau was a release of eight different wines.
I bought and tasted them all (the sacrifices I make).
They were not all hits but, should you have bought any already or should you decide to nab one or two on your way home (chances are there will be some left in the stores), here are my notes.
But first, a few lines about the making of wine: it takes time. Grapes are picked, crushed, and the sugar in the juice converts to alcohol over time in the process of fermentation…voila! Wine! Granted, this is a very simple explanation but it gets the point across.
Carbonic maceration (don’t you just love the word “maceration”? So primal…) is the application of carbon dioxide to whole grapes in a closed container. The juice inside the grapes begins to ferment and the structure and taste of the resulting crushing can be vastly different: more fruity, lower tannins and a wild combination of grapes and fizz on the palate. This wine can be ready to drink in as little as six weeks and should be drunk well within a year of bottling. It is the 1980s pop song: fun, silly, light-hearted; it is not high art but everyone hums it at a party!
The name Beaujolais Nouveau is reserved for wines from the Gamay grape from the Beaujolais region of France. Canada, California and Italy and other wine producing countries have and do make “Nouveau” wines but cannot, like Champagne, use the name. This year, the LCBO carried 5 French “Nouveaux”, two Italian “Novello” wines and only 1 Ontario. (I remember, in around 1995, when Chateau des Charmes’s Gamay Nouveau was better than that year’s French offerings):
- Georges du Boeuf Beaujolais Nouveau Village – cherry pink in colour; juicy grapes on the nose; pop rocks on the tongue; this one had all the attributes of a Nouveau: not much going on but flighty and fun.
- Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau – deep purple in colour; not much on the nose; a bit vinegary in the mouth; boring.
- Joseph Drouhin, Beaujolais Nouveau Village – pink ink in the glass; nutty on the nose; petrol and a hint of chemicals in the mouth; my sister claimed this one tasted like diet jello.
- Georges Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau – red with a hint of pink in colour; carbon on the nose; popped like a rock star in the mouth with fizz and cherries; a happy, simple wine.
- Primeur Catalan, Syrah-Merlot – deep red in the glass; berries on the nose; red fruit and a hint of acidity in the mouth. While this was a nice wine, it lacked the characteristics of a Nouveau…in fact, it tasted like the local “plonk” my Aunt serves in Rome…not bad at all…not a Nouveau.
- Mezzacorono Novio, Vino Novello – the colour of squid ink (which is not a bad thing, honest!); nicest bouquet on the nose; a little fizz on tip of tongue with quite noticeable fresh red grapes; a light, Spring red.
- Negrar, Novello del Veneto -orange with pink tinges in the glass; unusual green grapes on the nose; flowers and apples in the mouth; reminiscent of a Riesling, of all things!
- Rief Estates, The Fool Gamay Nouveau – nice label…nothing more.
It may have fallen out of favour and be dismissed as not really wine, but I like Nouveau. But then again, I like Cindy Lauper, too!
Notes on Sampling Nouveau…
275 Rideau Street