The third Thursday of November, Beaujolais Nouveau is released. That’s two days from now, at which time Nouveau becomes the first vintage 2009 wine to be publicly poured and enjoyed. If history is any guide, the quality of the wines will be unremarkable, because the quality of the wines isn’t the point. The point is that the world has been made new again. For most, the release of Beaujolais Nouveau is like the opening of Spring Training: a hopeful sign of better things to come and a celebration of the comforting rhythm of life.
In theory, I should be a Beaujolais Nouveau fan. I like the whole idea of everyone in the world cracking open a bottle at the same time, that for one bright moment we’re all sharing essentially the same experience. In general I approve of fresh young wines filled with promise. I believe unequivocally in celebrating a successful harvest. In the abstract, I’m in favor of anything that makes wine fun and accessible.
But Beaujolais Nouveau arrives at exactly the same time my own biological clock turns from light to dark. What brings joy to others gives me a feeling deep in my gut that is familiar to anyone who remembers what it’s like to be six years old and watching an accidentally-released helium balloon float away into the sky, just out of reach. It’s a moment of sudden resignation, a realization that something is gone forever. Summer, maybe, or another year of my life. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but in the emotional seasons of my year the arrival of new wine begins my annual period of purge, of expelling the unnecessary from my life. This is the time of year when I want to throw everything away and start over: the clutter, the obligations, the things best-known.
One might imagine Beaujolais Nouveau — new and simple as it is — would be an endorsement of that urge, that I would embrace new wine as a reflection of my desire to shed my own skin. I don’t. Instead, Beaujolais Nouveau stands like a Greek Chorus, taunting me. I resent it the way I resent outstanding young people with their whole lives in front of them like an open meadow. At this time of year, I’m intensely aware of my own scar tissue, and as I grit my teeth against the cold, wet weather, I hunker down with wines as dark and moody as I am. As the Beaujolais Nouveau arrives in stores, I seek out wines that are as much puzzle as palliative.
Keep your damned Beaujolais Nouveau. As the world descends into another heartless Winter, I want no tantalizing hint of freshness and rebirth. Give me an old, black Spaniard a decade in the barrel, and leave me alone to sip it in peace next to a fire built not with logs but with the detritus of another year gone by.
First published on the Louisville Juice wine blog, this piece won the Plumpjack Fellowship at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley.