Today marks the release of the controversial Beaujolais Nouveau 2011 batch. That’s right: a 2011 wine from France is already on the market, but it won’t be there for long. If you’re not familiar with this wine, it’s a young wine which needs to be consumed quickly after production, rather than aged. Although it was officially released in 1951 when the AOC rules for Beaujolais sales were relaxed to allow sales prior to 15th December, it only really became better known in the 1970s, when the race to Paris grew in popularity. Yes, there is a race to Paris with the new wine, from the Beaujolais wine-making area just west of Switzerland, every year and it has since spread to other countries. The date of annual release was 15th November until 1985, when the French realised they should sell the wine just before the weekend to take advantage of marketing opportunities around the world. And so now it’s released on the third Thursday of November.
History lesson out of the way, here’s the dirt. Years ago when I was a French language student in Annecy, the teacher announced that it was Beaujolais Nouveau release day, and that there’d be a wine-tasting session upstairs, put on by the school. Actually, I didn’t understand anything she said but a classmate explained it in English. We discovered a room full of clueless students getting a free swig from French wine sellers who explained to them in English why they should buy a bottle or two. Lured with enough freebie snacks, some of them spent their lunch money on the wine and filled up on crackers and cheese — and wine — instead.
I’ve asked some French people what Beaujolais Nouveau is all about and the general consensus is that it’s a good excuse to make fast cash on unfussy wind drinkers both here in France and abroad who know nothing about wine. Of course, there must be plenty of French people who love the wine (probably mostly from Beaujolais, in the same way that the Savoyards love their sickly sweet Savoyard local white wine as if it’s the best stuff in the world), but I’ve yet to met them.
So, today marks the day when the French supermarkets and wine sellers go into a marketing frenzy to try to get as much of the short-lived wine from shelves to customers’ mouths, while many around these parts walk past saying “bof” at the whole spectacle, plucking a bottle of that world-class Savoyard white wine instead.