If you have ever read anything I have written about wine, you probably know that wine, to me, is more than just juice in a glass. It’s an experience, or depending on how dorky I’m feeling, it’s an event! Wine can make a special occasion even more special. Just like the scent of a specific perfume or a certain song can bring back a memory, a good wine can remind you of a special time in your life or a fun story to share with your friends. The stories are my favorite. All good wine has a story. Who made it, where it comes from, what was going on in the world at the time. Or maybe a story of the first time you discovered it. So please indulge me as I tell my story of Beaujolais Nouveau.
“Back in the day...” I feel like I can use that term now that I’m 47, and it‘s fitting because it now seems like another time and another place. I had just moved to New York City from Leyland, England. I was 22, with spiky punk rock hair, a black leather biker jacket, and ripped jeans rolled up over my Doc Martin boots and held up with suspenders. I moved there alone with nothing but my 1950s suit case and a couch to sleep on for a week. As I stepped off the bus at the Port Authority Terminal, I remember being blown away by the width of the streets and the height of the buildings. It was 1986, "Papa Don’t Preach" by Madonna and Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” could be heard blasting out from the bars and the small stores as I walked around the streets with my neck craned upwards, trying to catch a glimpse of the sky between the massive buildings. I was filled with excitement, not knowing where this adventure was going to lead me. It felt as if I covered every inch of that amazing city as I walked those streets for weeks in search of a job. I finally found employment as a bus boy at the Saloon Restaurant on the corner of 64th and Broadway right across the street from Lincoln Center. I had never worked in a restaurant before. In fact, after I was offered the job, I had to go back and ask the manger, “What exactly does a bus boy do?”
My first big memory from the Saloon was on October 27, 1986. The Mets won the World Series and everyone was marching down Broadway celebrating. I was fresh from England. I didn’t even know who the Mets were but everyone else appeared to.
As November rolled around, I started to see signs around the restaurant and around town. They said “Beaujolais Nouveau is coming!” There was a buzz going around and everyone seemed to be quite exited. Not as excited as when the Mets won, but excited none the less. “Who is this Beaujolais guy?” I thought. “He must be very important. And where exactly is he coming from?”
Well, as most of you probably know, he was coming from France and “he” is a wine.
Beaujolais Nouveau is the name of the young fruity red wine that comes from, you guessed it, Beaujolais, which is located south of the famous Burgundy. Here’s the fun part and why all the excitement: Beaujolais Nouveau can only be released to the public each year on the third Thursday of November. Beaujolais Nouveau is allowed to be exported, but must be held in a bonded warehouse until 12.01am before it can be released.
Originally, almost a century ago, Beaujolais Nouveau was shipped down river by paddle boats to the cafes and bars of Lyon and later, Paris. It was meant as a celebration wine to celebrate the harvest and also give a preview of the up-coming Beaujolais that would be released in the spring. These days, the celebration is world-wide. In fact, almost half of the Beaujolais harvest is now dedicated to Nouveau because of its popularity. Beaujolais Nouveau is made from 100% Gamay Grape and is literally picked, fermented, bottled, and ready to go in a matter of weeks. It’s not meant to be a complex wine. It’s just meant to be fun to drink and it is! It has a fresh, young, grapy flavor, very fruity - some even say it has the essence of bubble gum. It’s a very easy wine to drink which adds to its popularity. This is also one of the few red wines you should chill (slightly) because it brings out the fruit even more.
Try it this year. It will cost you, depending on the brand, anywhere from $8 to $20 - probably not more. It comes out just in time for Thanksgiving and compliments roast turkey, potato’s, stuffing, and cranberry sauce like they were made for each other. Which they were not, by the way, but who cares! Give it a whirl - you'll love it.
A few of good producers to look for are Duboeuf, Druhin, and Jadot.
I knew nothing about wine when I was a bus boy in New York - didn’t really know much about anything back then. But it’s always been a fond memory of those days for me. The Saloon Restaurant is now gone; demolished and replaced with a Bed Bath and Beyond.
But, like I said before, every good wine can remind you of a special time in your life or a fun story to share with friends. This one is mine.