I wouldn’t have known last Thursday was Beaujolais Nouveau day, had I not seen this board outside the pub. I wasn’t aware of races to deliver it first, or parties to sample it; the whole experience seems to me rooted in a nostalgic era of wine bars with names like Champers. But once I’d seen it, I felt I had to try it out again.
(Distressingly, I did actually find a wine bar called Champers after writing that paragraph. Located in the prime suburbia of Eastcote, its orthographically-challenged home page proudly declares this wine bar to be “as cosially electric as they come”, a claim I genuinely cannot comprehend.)
Now, I’m not really in favour of chaps drinking wine in pubs. The thing is, a proper pint of real ale is something you can only drink in a pub, and it is such a wonderful thing that it should be linked, indissolubly, to drinking in pubs themselves. A pub which does not have draught beer is not a pub; it’s a bar.
Wine in pubs, on the other hand, suffers from limited choice, seemingly driven by economics rather than taste; and a painful mark-up, which means a single glass in a pub often costs as much as an entire bottle of the same wine from a shop.
However, in a rare experience for me, I was actually disappointed before I had even tasted this wine – because they weren't selling it by the glass. You had to buy a bottle.
I observed that this was not a sales tactic they were employing with, for example, gin. And I suppose I could have argued the toss with the landlord; but in my experience arguing with pub landlords is rarely a good idea. There are few debating chambers in the world’s democracies from which you can be ejected on the grounds of your attitude, but the public bar is one of them.
But in some ways, it made sense. Because Beaujolais Nouveau was never a wine to sit and savour by yourself. One label actually says that it’s “ideal to share with friends and family”. It’s a sort of party experience, an occasion where you all agree it’s a bit of fun, a bit of a lark, to try this barely-drinkable wine, and the focus is really on going out with your mates. And if you all then agree that it tastes horrible, that’s just part of the fun. Isn’t it?
Anyway, I did not intend sitting on my own in a pub, nursing an entire bottle of wine, and lowering yet further the tragic image of Sediment’s authors.
Yet finding a bottle to take home and taste proved rather difficult. When I stuck my head into the nice wine merchants down the road and asked if they were selling it, they shook their head at me with that tolerant smile one employs to pacify a lunatic.
Because, of course, nowadays even the casual customer knows a bit more about wine than they did when this event took off back in the 70s and 80s. We are now used to being sold wines which taste acceptable whenever they are made. The new French vintage means less to us than ever; and whatever the occasion, we do not expect a merchant to sell us wine which tastes unpleasant.
Finally, in Waitrose, I found the Beaujolais Nouveau 2012 from Georges Dubeouf, the chap who is most responsible for the international marketing of this event. His garishly-coloured bottle is presumably intended to evoke the lively nature of both the wine and the occasion, while the back label talks of “Beaujolais and French tradition”, although it’s unclear how this equates with a plastic cork.
There’s nothing you want quite so much on a freezing November night as a glass of chilled red. And with temperatures so low, the bottle’s conveniently chilled just by carrying it back from the store.
Do they recommend drinking this chilled because it numbs the palate? Because, as if you needed telling, it’s pretty nasty. Its thin colour and spritely nose lead on to a real collision in the mouth between a tart body and that notorious bubblegum fruitiness on top. Perhaps if you had a single quick glass, from a bottle shared with friends, it might be tolerable, but its fruit evaporates quickly to leave a ghostly, inky-flavoured wine.
Perhaps we should employ the same gimmick in reverse? Perhaps we should ship over to France our very first birds shot on August 12th, before they’ve had a chance to hang? Scotch whisky, before it’s matured? Or the very first Christmas puddings, before they’ve had an opportunity to steep?
Or perhaps we should nip out on the Metropolitan line to suburbia, to enjoy our Nouveau in a wine bar like Champers, “A legendry (sic) meeting place for all, for intimate chat, maybe watch some football,” (because those two activities go together so well…).
And, in a nostalgic throwback, forget everything we’ve learnt about wine in the last 30 years.