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Beaujolais Nouveau — comme ci, comme ça

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Every year on the third Thursday in November, Beaujolais Nouveau is released. It's a tradition that was invented by négociants in the region to promote wines from Beaujolais as well as to offload some of their more ordinary juice.

The Beaujolais Nouveau heyday has come and gone, but one can still find these red wines on local shelves every year around the same time - November 15 being the big day in 2012. There's not as much fanfare around their release as there once was, and the steady creeping upwards of prices in addition to the increase in popularity in New World wines has meant Beaujolais Nouveau is more a tradition than a chance to capture a big chunk of the wine-thirsty public.

There’s a real bubble gum, strawberry candy and bread dough thing going on aromatically here that’s pretty typical of Beaujolais Nouveau.

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There’s a real bubble gum, strawberry candy and bread dough thing going on aromatically here that’s pretty typical of Beaujolais Nouveau.

The bottles are typically adorned with pretty, eye-catching labels, and are marketed in the US as being a good option to go with Thanksgiving dinner. Wikipedia says around 49 million litres of the stuff is made every year, which makes up half of the Beaujolais region's total production.

Some New World producers in regions that make a fair amount of wine based on the Gamay grape - the same variety used to make reds in the Beaujolais region - have jumped on the trend, and it's not uncommon to find Gamay Nouveau (or some similarly named product) from cooler-climate New World regions like Ontario.

In the past I've gotten a bit more excited about Beaujolais Nouveau - I'm a big fan of reds made from the Gamay grape, both from the Beaujolais region and otherwise. When drunk young, wine made from the Gamay grape is juicy, fresh and kinda fun - most Gamay wines aren't meant for any extensive aging, although some from certain communes in the Beaujolias region like Morgon are a little heavier and more serious.

Since Beaujolais Nouveau day is one of only a few annual wine-based events celebrated around the world, I figured I'd get in on the action and at least give the 2012 batch a taste. I haven't found great variation in vintages over the last five years or so - they're extremely fruit-forward, light-bodied wines with very little tannin.

I picked up the Georges Dubœuf 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau for $16.95 plus taxes at my local Liquor Mart - it appears that's the only one at Liquor Marts, although private wine stores may carry others (I know Fenton's Wine Merchants at The Forks Market has had quite the selection in the past).

Back around early 2006 I was given a wine kit of Oregon Pinot Noir juice, which sat in my basement untouched for about a year until I finally got around to making it. As it was fermenting, I'd occasionally give it a try to see how it was doing.

The reason I bring it up is because the smell of the Dubœuf reminds me of that extremely unsuccessful endeavour. There's a real bubble gum, strawberry candy and bread dough thing going on aromatically here that's pretty typical of Beaujolais Nouveau. On the palate it's very light and super juicy, with strawberry/raspberry candy flavours certainly in charge. There's virtually no tannin here, and the acidity is fairly pronounced, ramping up the juicy factor here in a big way. If you like extremely fruity red wine, you could certainly do worse than this - here I'm thinking of the Apothic Red - but you could certainly do much better, especially for the price.

Come to think of it, why don't I open a bottle of that homemade wine I made five years ago and give that a try too? Ok, here goes...

The vintage comes with an asterisk, as it was the year I bottled the stuff and the year my daughter (for whom it is named) was born.

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The vintage comes with an asterisk, as it was the year I bottled the stuff and the year my daughter (for whom it is named) was born.

Frances Grace Estates 2007* Pinot Noir (Yamhill Valley, Oregon - priceless)

The vintage comes with an asterisk, as it was the year I bottled the stuff and the year my daughter (for whom it is named) was born. I think we gave it to family that Christmas. I made the label myself.

A bad sign - the cork broke as I was trying to extract it. Things are looking bleak.

Appearance-wise, there's a definite brownish tinge to the edge of the surface of the wine in the glass, indicating it's probably past its prime. On the nose... well, what can I say? It's like everything that could go wrong with a wine in one glass: vinegar, nail polish remover and cork aromas are most prominent, meaning some air likely got in and/or the wine was tainted in the process of making it - both likely.

There's a definite stewed cherry thing going on in this light-bodied Pinot Noir that's anything but pleasant, and a sort of prune/raisin/toffee undertone that isn't much fun either. It doesn't taste too vinegary or corked, but it's certainly far less than what I'd call drinkable. I'll score this wine a solid 61 points out of 100. It makes the Beaujolais Nouveau taste absolutely divine.

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About Ben MacPhee-Sigurdson

When he wasn't bashing on a drum kit in local punk rock bands, Ben spent the mid '90s hucking cases of wine around to pay for two English degrees. Now he's the Winnipeg Free Press wine columnist and blogger.

The extent of Ben's wine experience in the mid-90s was memories of accidentally leaving a bottle of White Zinfandel in the freezer overnight, and the ensuing mess he was left with. Between 1996 and 2005 Ben absorbed all he could about wine while working at wine shops to pay for school. Meanwhile, he was churning out papers for his BA and MA in English (from the Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba, respectively).

Ben became the Winnipeg Free Press' weekly wine columnist in 2005, and two years later joined Wine Access magazine as a contributor, a member of their national tasting panel and a judge at the Canadian Wine Awards and International Value Wine Awards until the magazine closed up shop in 2013.

In 2013 Ben joined the Winnipeg Free Press as a copy/web editor.

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