Over the last 70 years Beaujolais Nouveau has moved from a little-known regional speciality, to faddy craze, to a bit of a joke. Where once distributors raced to get the newly bottled wines to shops and bars before their competitors, serious wine stockists and writers dismissed the young wines as immature, alcoholic fruit juice.
During the life-span of the Salusbury Winestore, we have never really gone in for Beaujolais Nouveau, given that its major selling point is not the taste (our number one priority) but how fast it makes it from vine to shelf. However, we have made an exception this year and imported just 48 bottles from one of our regular suppliers of Beaujolais, Julienas-Chaintre.
Why the change of heart? Two reasons really. First, Beaujolais as a category has grown so much in quality and reputation over the last 20 years. Once a Beaujolais drinker could be pigeonholed as someone who wanted their wines simple and light, a characterisation that the Beaujolais Nouveau craze did little to dispel. At the peak of the craze in 1992 half of the production of Beaujolais was Nouveau, meaning that the average wine buyer's perception was at best of a simple, fruity, easy to drink brew and at worst, a thin, pale liquid whose taste disappeared before it hit the back of your throat.
This insipid reputation causedBeaujolais sales to plummet at the turn of the millennium, only starting to recover through the efforts of quality-lead producers like the Gang of Four (Lapierre, Thevenet, Foillard, and Breton - the latter two we currently have on the shelves here). These pioneers of minimal-intervention winemaking focused their efforts on the 10 crus of Beaujolais, treating their terroir as though it merited the same seriousness as Burgundy - which has proved justified. Now Beaujolais is the choice of anyone looking for delicious, versatile, balanced and food friendly wines. A drink which offers great value in comparison to its overhyped Northern neighbour.
Ironically the second reason the wine world, including our good selves, are prepared to take a second chance on Nouveau, is precisely the reason so many were turned off in the first place - the fashion for gluggable, fruity, easy-drinking wines.
Alongside, and intertwined with the birth of the natural, low-intervention wine movement has come a new appreciation for what the French call Glou Glou (you can just hear the wine travelling down the gullet). But whereas previously Glou Glou meant pesticide sprayed, chapitalised wines, fermented with cultured yeasts, the modern gluggable wines are organic and naturally fermented, eschewing heavy oak and extraction. Minimal-intervention wines, being unoaked and otherwise unmolested have become what Nouveau so long purported to be: a drink which is all about the purity and quality of the fruit. A new appreciation of unadorned fermented grape juice has lead wine drinkers back to the simple pleasures of Nouveau. A drink which is more often free of the intensive practices of the past with proper attention paid the vines and their habitat.
Which in a strange roundabout way brings us back where we started, with shops and customers waiting keenly for delivery of the vintage's first wines and anticipating their juicy, fresh drinking pleasure. Our interest in Nouveau is the sign of an appellation which has reinvented its image through a focus on quality. Nouveau is never going to sell for thousands in auction rooms or grace the leather-bound wine bibles in Michelin-starred restaurants, but it represents what should be wine's essential nature - a simple pleasure accompanying good food and good company. We will be raising a glass to its arrival on the 19th of this month.