This past weekend signaled the official kickoff of the holiday season in my social calendar. Of all the food and wine events that take place over the course of the year, the one I am most loathe to miss is the annual Nouveau Beaujolais Festival, hosted by The Wasatch Mountain Food & Wine Society. Held yearly at Deer Valley Resort, it is, for me, a “must-do” occasion, so this year I did it again.
Of course, the whole notion of staging an event for foodies and wine geeks based around Nouveau Beaujolais is a silly one. But that’s precisely what I like about it. Deer Valley’s annual Nouveau Beaujolais shindig isn’t the sort of mind-numbing session where aficionados sit around swirling wine in their glasses and ponder the merits of this year’s Beaujolais vintage over the classic 1985. At the Nouveau Beaujolais Festival, no one takes notes and no one sips and spits wine into buckets. That’s because Nouveau Beaujolais is more a suggestion of a wine than the real thing—the impetus to gather with friends gone missing since the last holiday season, surrounded by great food, Deer Valley’s renowned hospitality, and of course, copious quantities of Beaujolais Nouveau.
I like to think of Beaujolais Nouveau as a “training-wheels” wine. Like RosÃ©, it’s a red wine well-suited to people who don’t drink red wine. It’s low in both tannins and alcohol, making it closer to Welch’s than a mouth-puckering powerhouse red. It’s the flimsy flash and sizzle of Britney Spears in contrast to Candace Bergen. It’s fifteen minutes of fame versus a career that improves with age; the “zipless fuck” in Fear of Flying versus the lifetime companionship and lust of Love in the Time of Cholera.
All of which doesn’t mean that, like “Oops ... I Did it Again,” Nouveau Beaujolais can’t be fun. It’s a perfect wine for sipping while grazing on Deer Valley’s opulent French-inspired spread of cheeses, fresh-baked breads, cassoulet, patÃ©, and the like. With Nouveau Beaujolais, you don’t have to worry about the wine overpowering the food. It’s versatile enough to be a good choice for any holiday gathering where flavor components might range from turkey or ham to cranberries and pumpkin pie.
Beaujolais Nouveau (literally, “new Beaujolais”) was originally drunk in France shortly after the grape harvest to give the public a sampling of what the regular Beaujolais wines would taste like for that year. That means not all Beaujolais is “nouveau.” But due to its increasing popularity and beneficial effect on winemakers’ cash flow, about a third of the Beaujolais crop now shows up in stores as Beaujolais Nouveau. The rest goes into making three qualities of Beaujolais wines, which in ascending order of desirability and price are: Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages, and “Cru” Beaujolais.
Bottled wine doesn’t get any younger than Beaujolais Nouveau, which is picked, fermented, bottled and sold within a matter of weeks. This quick vinification means that it’s not a wine for the ages. Most Beaujolais Nouveau hits its peak around the Christmas holidays, and is a fading memory by springtime. And that’s precisely what we love about it. Beaujolais Nouveau is the great equalizer of red wines. It’s cheap, fun to drink and even the most wine-reticent person at your party will love it.
For geezers like me, any excuse to think young is a good one. So pop Britney into the CD player, open up a bottle or two of Nouveau Beaujolais and dance around the house like a nubile teenager.
SIPS: Fleming’s will throw a Nouveau Beaujolais party on Monday, Dec. 1 featuring five Beaujolais wines. The cost is $20 for food and all five wines. Phone 355-3704 for reservations.