Most of the time when I’m in The Store, I shield my eyes with my forearm when I pass the French wine section. There are just too many unfamiliar, intimidating labels: Pouilly-Fuisse, Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, Macon-Villages, Chateauneuf du Pape. But, of late, I’ve adopted a new perspective. I don’t need expertise to enjoy the benefits of something. Take this laptop my fingers are pecking away at, for instance. I’ve no clue whatsoever how my typing results in words on the screen, or why when I cut and paste it actually cuts and pastes. It doesn’t matter. I have no interest in understanding what the colorful little electronic doo-dads inside do, so long as they do it.(Perhaps a bit more understanding would have prevented the untimely demise of the desk top style computer that previously occupied this spot. During one session, when it was being quite insolent and unresponsive, I picked up the tower thing that sat on the floor under the desk, carried it to the back porch, still dragging peripherals that were attached by those big, fat pre USB cables, and hurled it off to its death on the driveway. Dude, I need a Dell) But it is an unavoidable eventuality, that if one develops an interest in wine, they must sooner or later say Oui to Francaise.
But it’s so…different. We’re used to seeing brand names, and a grape variety front and center on the label. Not so en France. There are some exceptions: Fat Bastard, Arrogant Frog, Red Bicyclette and others name their wines in ways we recognize. But most French wine is named for a place, not a grape, and they view it as our responsibility to know what grape is inherent to that place. Despite the giant American market for their wines, the French, I suspect, regard us as the Griswold’s Cousin Eddie and Aunt Catherine, and have no intention of dumbing down their labels for our benefit.
France has about a dozen major wine regions; the number varies depending on who you ask.. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone and Champagne are, perhaps, the most widely known. They are further divided into smaller sections, such as Burgundy’s Cote d’Or, Maconnais, or Cote Chalonnaise. Technically part of Burgundy, but often regarded as regions of their own, are Chablis, and, at the southern most part of Burgundy, the area known as Beaujolais. To even further confuse this issue, the Beaujolais area is divided into a sort of pecking order of increasingly smaller, increasingly more specific areas. The Villages half of the name refers to it as being in the second tier (from the bottom), and coming from among a very specific list of communes or villages.
While Burgundy red wines are Pinot Noir, Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape that yields a fruity, medium to light bodied wine, in many ways similar to Pinot Noir.
George Duboeuf is one of the major wine negociants in the Burgundy region, and is almost synonymous with Beaujolais. The company created what has become a national event in France, the release each year, specifically on the third Thursday of November, of that year’s Beaujolais Nouveau. That event has spread to the U.S., and people flock to their local wine store to grab that year’s release for their Thanksgiving celebration. Each year the label is different, so wine stores usually hide the product until release day, adding to the anticipation and hype of Beaujolais Nouveau Day.
Beaujolais Nouveau is lighter, softer, more pink than this Beaujolais-Villages. The Nouveau is on the shelf mere weeks after production, while this has lingered and developed a couple of years. There is mild acidity, but it is quite smooth on the tongue. Nice smell and taste of berry and plum. Not sweet by any means, but easy to drink, if you enjoy a dry, lighter red. It was on sale for $7.99, a couple bucks off the regular cost of entry, so it’s a Cheapskate qualifier, at the sale price anyway.
While I’m still quite early in the French wine learning curve and will take advantage of the occasional opportunity to further explore (meaning sale prices under $10), there’s a whole wide world out there that is willing to talk to me, and Cousin Eddie, in ways we understand. Right Clark?