Fun isn't a word often used to describe wine. Lush, buttery, juicy and intense, maybe. Fun, not so much.
Unless, of course, you're describing the wine that's released like clockwork on the third Thursday of November. The 2009 Beaujolais nouveau hits shelves in wine shops and grocery stores this week, and it's nothing if not fun.
Beaujolais nouveau is the first wine of the year made from the gamay grapes harvested in the hilly area north of Lyon, France. Barely two months ago, the grapes were hanging on the vine. It is a wine meant to be enjoyed now and is perfect for people who drink more white than red. Its festive Fruit Stripe gum flavor keeps the party light.
To welcome the little wine with the big marketing campaign, restaurants often stage special dinners, offering food to complement the young wine. Liquor stores and wine shops across the country and around Tampa Bay will be pouring samples all day Thursday.
What can wine drinkers expect?
Pretty much the same thing as last year, and the year before that, says Steve Rayman of B-21 Fine Wine Superstore in Tarpon Springs. He says he has heard high praise for this year's vintage but doesn't take it to heart much.
To him, it's not the quality of the grapes that makes the release of Beaujolais nouveau such an event. Beaujolais nouveau is the first wine from the 2009 Northern Hemisphere harvest, the kickoff of the year's grapes. (Grapes in the Southern Hemisphere were picked about six months ago.)
"I like the idea of celebrating the harvest," Rayman says. "The wine signifies the end of the long growing season. For people who work the land, it's significant."
He describes the wine as "refreshing, clean and young." Oh, and "fun," too.
"It's never a great wine — in fact it's barely wine — and it's never a horrible wine," he says.
It also doesn't change much from year to year. The freshness is always there and some years there is a bit more concentration of flavor. That won't be noticeable to casual wine drinkers, though lovers of Beaujolais, new and old, might notice a difference, he says.
Some people say that the Beaujolais nouveau portends the quality of the wines to come from this year's vintage. Rayman says that the growers don't need the young wine to tell them that.
"They already know from the weather and the sugar content of the grapes," he says.
B-21 stocks Georges Duboeuf, Bouchard and Mommessin nouveaus, all under $9 this year, less than 2008. Georges Duboeuf is one of France's most famous wine merchants and is known as the king of Beaujolais. Beaujolais nouveau will be sampled at B-21 (43380 U.S. 19 N; (727) 937-5049) on Thursday.
The wine sells well for Thanksgiving because of the timing of the release and because it stands up to the flavors of turkey and sides, Rayman said. Serve it colder than most other reds, pulling it out of the fridge about an hour before eating.
And it's a wine meant to be enjoyed right away. It doesn't age as well, becoming a bit dull over time. Sort of like leftovers.
Information from Times files was used in this report. Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.