When New is Old

Our wait staff recently found themselves involved in a difficult decision. It came about because the staff agreed that opening a bottle of wine from the parental unit’s one-time wine cellar was an appropriate way to toast this figure during the holidays. The wait staff spent much time perusing the bottles (though we could have saved them the time and simply told them what was there…)

A Mouton Rothschild was mentioned, as was a Glen Ellen, a long-time favorite of the parental unit. But then one wait staff found two bottles of 1990 Beaujolais Nouveau. Yes, 1990. Thus began a long discussion amongst the staff (and ourselves) on whether such an old Beaujolais Nouveau would still be drinkable.

It seemed a history of Beaujolais Nouveau would be a good place to start. This particular wine originally served two purposes: it was brought out to celebrate the end of the harvest  and to give the winemakers and drinkers an opportunity to taste what that year’s harvest would likely yield. Though nouveau wine has a very short aging time – a mere seven to eight weeks – the essential flavors of the aged version are there, and allow the winemaker to determine how much oaking, for example, will be needed for the regular product.

As the production of Beaujolais wines became more regulated, the harvest wine took on a new life. Some clever winemakers recognized that this could be a new way to sell more wine. And thus were born the B.N. parties – beginning with the mad dash from the Beaujolais region to Paris, where wine lovers waited breathlessly for the first sip of that year’s crop. The party spread, first to the rest of France, then Europe, and across the Atlantic to the U.S. and Canada. It’s now officially a global phenomenon, with B.N. parties scheduled for that third Thursday in November, the official release date of all B.N., in places as far away as Australia and China.

For all the love that is showered on B.N., it was never intended to be a wine that you cellar for years. There’s almost no aging and no oaking, and so very little complexity that will develop slowly as the wine matures. B.N. is all about tasting the fruit, so the wines tend to be, well, fruity, but also very bright and juicy, with nearly non-existent tannins.

So without that tannin backbone, how well does B.N. hold up? Our wait staff decided it was a mystery that should be solved, and we heartily agreed. A lovely bottle was opened and the contents poured into our waiting glasses. The first thing we noticed was the aroma, which was less fruity than B.N. and more dusky.

The flavor was dry as well, the bright red fruits normally associated with B.N. now turned to dark berries and chocolate flavors. There’s some layering here, though without the barrel-aging, there’s not much depth. It’s a curious combination of the dark flavors one normally finds in long-flavored wines but with the short-flavors of a young wine.

We agreed that it wasn’t terrible. We all drank our glasses without complaint. In a crunch, opening an old bottle of B.N. can be a quick solution when there’s a shortage of wine…or an easy way to appease wine drinkers who want a red wine without all that heavy flavor. But if you want something with more depth, with lots of layers and subtle complexity, than you might want to turn to a wine that has spent time in the cellars before being bottled.

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