Nov 19, 200912:00 AM
Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

Being Light

2009 is supposed to be an excellent vintage.

There is only one event in the wine year calendar that is tied to time. Think about it: Here is a product that is absolutely driven by the efforts of the sun and the phases of the moon, and nowhere, except once, is there a moment when we honor “the moment.”

Heck, every bit of produce and fruit is available only at certain times of the year, and seafood is at least better –– if not available only –– at particular seasons. But wine, a product that is made from a fruit that provides only one harvest each 12 months, does not define itself by the passage of time.

Except one time, on the third Thursday of every November.

To the phrase, “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé,” at one minute past midnight on that day, the bottles are opened, and the first wine of the current vintage from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere is enjoyed. Such a day is the day this column will first appear.

The history of Beaujolais Nouveau is pretty straightforward. Beaujolais is located in the eastern sector of France, a bit north of the culinary capital, Lyon, and a bit south of the Burgundy region. The prime red grape of Beaujolais is Gamay, a relatively thin-skinned, quite fruity grape that is now known to be a cross between the red pinot noir grape and an ancient white grape brought to the region by the Romans, Gouais.

Gamay has the advantage of early ripening and not being as fickle in the vineyard as the pinot noir grape. When the Beaujolais AOC was established in 1937, one of the regulations stated that no wine from the current vintage could be released before Dec. 15.

Point of explanation: an AOC, Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, is a local governing body for each wine-producing area throughout every wine region in France. The AOC defines all manner of circumstances, such as where vineyards can be placed, what grapes can be grown, how much tonnage is allowed, when harvest can take place, and even whether the final wine is suitable and representative of the area. In short, these bureaucracies rule over the wine industry in their respective regions.

So with the establishment of the AOC in Beaujolais, the producers were told, even with an early-ripening grape that lent itself to immediate release and no barrel aging, that until the middle of December, the wine must rest in the warehouse in the bottle.

In 1951, under pressure from winemakers, the rules were relaxed. The date was moved to Nov. 15, and the wine was to be called “Beaujolais Nouveau.” The producers seized this opportunity to send a lot of not-so-great wine to market in a hurry, allowing them to recoup monies invested in the harvest at an early time.

In France, this wine release became an event to be celebrated, and eventually, thanks to air travel, the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau spread worldwide. In 1985, the date was moved to its current place in the calendar, the third Thursday of November, which allowed the producers to always take advantage of an upcoming weekend marketing situation. If you set a specific calendar date that can fall on a Monday, you don’t have the impact because early-week wine sales are anemic. Weekends are best for sales.

I think it is safe to state that Beaujolais producers are not a respected lot among wine aficionados. There have been scandals, mostly involving water and sugar additions to the wines, and there were shortcuts taken with the wines as regards quality and aging. It seems like the producers have cleaned up their act over the past few years, and the last scandal occurred in 2007, not so long ago. But in New Orleans and Louisiana, if we had gone since 2007 without a scandal, we would be celebrating in the streets. So we don’t have much room to judge others in this regard.

Anyway, the wines of Beaujolais Nouveau are fun. They are approachable, fruity, fresh and present an excellent opportunity to see what the 2009 crop is like, only weeks after its harvest.

There are those in the wine world who turn their nose up at these wines, but that is not the proper response. These wines do not pretend to be great or age-worthy or even complicated. They are just there, and they are there at this moment, so let’s relax, sit back and have a glass of wine.

During the holiday season, including Thanksgiving, Beaujolais Nouveau makes an excellent accompaniment to turkey and cranberry sauce, the fruit qualities of the wine blending nicely with all manner of typical holiday cuisines.

The wines, by the way, are cheap, usually under $11, so you can pick up a few bottles, take them over to your mom’s and make a lot of people think you are pretty special.

This year the Beaujolais Nouveau wines from Georges DuBoeuf come in two styles –– one is the usual Beaujolais Nouveau, and the other is a Beaujolais Nouveau Villages, which indicates the grapes have come from a specific area and are likely of higher caliber.

DuBoeuf has also indicated that 2009 was an excellent vintage, calling it one of the best in the past 50 years. A caveat: French wine producers declaring a great vintage is not a rare occurrence. They do this with the same regularity as the streetcars turning off Canal onto St. Charles.

But the point is when else in a wine calendar year is there a precise time when a wine can be enjoyed? This is it, the third Thursday in November, and the Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived.

Enjoy. Toast. Live in the moment. 

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Happy Hour

All there is to sip and savor in New Orleans

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In New Orleans, when the subject is wine and spirits, it is very difficult to leave Tim McNally out of the discussion. He is considered one of the “go to” resources in the Crescent City for counsel and information about adult beverages and their place in the fabric of life in this great city.

 

Tim is the Wine and Spirits Editor, columnist and feature writer for New Orleans Magazine; the Wine and Spirits Editor and weekly columnist, Happy Hour, for www.MyNewOrleans.com; the Executive Editor and monthly features writer for Gulf Coast Wine + Dine Online; creator and editor of his own website, www.winetalknola.com; all in addition to his daily hosting duties on the radio program, The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, on the air at WGSO – 990AM, every weekday, 3- 5 p.m, and streamed live on www.wgso.com.

 

Over the years, Tim has proved to be an informed interviewer, putting his guests at ease, and covering tactile and technical information so that even a novice can understand difficult agricultural and production concepts. Tim speaks with winemakers, wine and spirit ambassadors, distillers, authors, people who stage events and festivals, and takes questions from listeners and readers, all seamlessly blended together in a program that is unique in America.

 

Tim’s love of wine actually came about many years ago from his then wife-to-be, Brenda Maitland, a noted journalist in her own right, and together they have traveled to the major wine producing areas in the US and Europe, seeking first-hand information about beverages that give us all so much pleasure.

 

They were instrumental in the founding of the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience, a major national and international well-regarded festival of its type. They both continue to be involved with the planning and staging of this multi-venue, five-day event now over twenty years old.

 

Tim is also considered one of the foremost professional wine judges in the US, being invited to judge more than 11 wine competitions each year, including the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition of American wines in the world, with more than 6,000 entries), the Riverside, CA International Wine Competition, San Francisco International Wine Competition, Atlantic Seaboard Wine Competition, Indiana International Wine Competition, Sandestin, Florida Wine Festival Competition, the State of Michigan Wine Competition, the U.S. National Wine Competition, and the National Wine Competition of Portugal.

 

Tim is a guest lecturer to many local wine and dine organizations, and speaks each year to the senior class in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.

 

Staying abreast of the news of the wine and spirits world is a passion for Tim, and he is committed to sharing what he knows with his listeners and readers. “Doing something I love, with products that I truly enjoy, created by interesting people, coupling the experience with culinary excellence, and doing it all in the greatest city in America,” are the words Tim lives by.

 

It’s a good gig. 

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