Blind Wine Tasting Notes: 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau

Editor’s Note, November 15th, 2008: If you’re searching for a review of Beaujolais Nouveau wines from the 2008 vintage and wound up here, I must admit that I haven’t yet reviewed the new vintage. But what I’d like to know is, Should I? Feel free to direct me one way or the other by leaving a comment.

Many wine buffs the world over participated last week in a yearly ritual — tasting newly-arrived 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau wines. Since the long-ago origins of this tradition in France’s Beaujolais region, a sudden fever tends to mark the third Thursday in November. That fever struck here in the navel of the California wine country, too, as six local tasters, each with varying degrees of wine tasting experience, brought their selected wares — one bottle each — to my home to be swirled, sniffed, sipped, and scored.

Most experienced wine tasters will tell you that there’s more to the fanfare about Beaujolais Nouveau than there is to the wine. I’ve described it before as being not much more than Kool-Aid with an acid infusion — a once-a-year ritual and a prelude to drinking finer wine.

Nevertheless, there was quite a disparity last Friday evening in our results for six of this year’s labels; as you’ll see below, two clear favorites emerged. In the course of my shopping research, I had played a hunch, thinking that my selection of a Nouveau from the distinguished Beaujolais-Villages subappellation might stack the deck against the selections of the other five tasters in my party. As you’ll see from the results, where a wine is made doesn’t necessarily guarantee its quality. But I wouldn’t know until the final unveiling of our cloth-shrouded bottles.

Paired with our Beaujolais Nouveaux were whole wheat breads, crudites, and three cow’s milk cheeses: a soft, almost butterlike Explorateur from France with an easy spreadability; a Jean Grogne, an earthy and slightly bitter French triple-creme cheese; and a moderately sharp, medium-bodied Wisconsin Gruyere.

Among our assembled company was Valerie S., whom you see wearing a beret in the accompanying photo, and donning the proud colors of her native France. It was Valerie who brought the crudites, fancifully adorning them with two well-recognized French symbols: L’Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower. And thanks to Ginny G. (that’s her seated in front), who served a delicious piping-hot post-tasting quiche.

A Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at Chez Winehiker, November 17, 2006.

A Beaujolais Nouveau tasting at Chez Winehiker, November 17, 2006.

About the wines

The wines listed in the Group Ranking table below are ranked top-down, most favorite to least favorite. In the left column is the actual group score for each wine using my Wine Scoring Sheet, which is based on the 20-point Davis scale. Each 2006 vintage wine is listed by label and is followed by the wine’s appellation, its heat (alcohol content) and the price (US$) per 750ml bottle. All wines were purchased where linked but not necessarily available currently nor purchasable online; if no direct link to the wine itself is present in the Group Ranking table, purchase information is not available.

Below the group ranking, I’ve employed the scoring sheet to tabulate my own scores for each individual wine.

Group Ranking

+5

Dominique Piron, Beaujolais-Villages

12.0%

$13

+5

Georges du Boeuf, Beaujolais

12.0%

$9

+4

Bouchard Ain et Fils, Beaujolais

12.0%

$9

-1

Louis Tete, Beaujolais

12.5%

$10

-4

Henry Fessy, Beaujolais-Villages

12.5%

$12

-5

Mommesin, Beaujolais

12.0%

$12

Winehiker’s Scoring

12.5

Georges du Boeuf, Beaujolais

11.5

Bouchard Ain et Fils, Beaujolais

11

Dominique Piron, Beaujolais-Villages

10.5

Louis Tete, Beaujolais

10.5

Henry Fessy, Beaujolais-Villages

7.5

Mommesin, Beaujolais

Analysis
As I host my tastings, I often suggest to my panel of tasters that they should consider the merits of each wine as it compares to the other wines on the table, and not against previous tasting experience. This caveat is especially true when tasting Beaujolais Nouveaux, since these wines can hardly compare, quality-wise, to nearly any other wine. One could conceivably rate all BN wines very low compared to a powerhouse Cabernet or even a young, fruity table wine. As it is, you’ll note that I generally tend to qualify my remarks somewhat when describing BNs — they’re just not great wines. But they’re not really meant to be.

With these notions in mind, and as you can see from my Winehiker’s Scoring table, none of these wines scored very highly, but none scored too low, either, with the exception of the group’s extreme non-favorite, the Mommesin, which had not much more going for it than its cranberry color.

The fairly narrow spread in my scoring of the top five wines reflected the groups’. That being said, our aggregate scoring easily helped to identify two distinct group favorites. It was clear that we collectively agreed about the qualities of these six labels.

But let’s break it down. Five of these wines were rather restrained upon judging aroma; only the Henry Fessy seemed to offer any real sense of fruitiness right out of the bottle. There was a slight barnyard aspect to the Piron that foretold its prominence, and a minute fragment of leather in the nose of the Louis Tete. None of these wines, however, appeared to open into stronger fragrances as the evening wore on.

If you’ve experimented with BNs previously, you can imagine how their tartness can affect the overall balance of the wines. With the exception of the Mommesin, which was entirely flabby, all were highly acidic. No small surprise there; strong acidity is an expectation with Beaujolais Nouveau.

However, I felt that at least one of these six should offer some smidgen of sweetness, however slight, to go along with the other characteristic of a BN — its fruitiness. We didn’t really find these wines to be appropriately sweet; I subsequently gave moderate to low scores across the board on this attribute. All wines scored reasonably well on the final balance aspect, astringency. Of the six wines, the wine that I felt had the best overall balance was the du Boeuf.

If nothing else can be said about Beaujolais Nouveau, it is a food wine and not a wine you drink for the sake of drinking it. That much was evident early on in our judging. By the time we had worked our way down to scoring our wines on body and taste, we were already reaching for the bread and cheese — anything to clear the acids from our palates. But if any could be considered to have an appropriate texture for drinking, it would be the Piron and the Bouchard Ain which, with their nearly-on-target balance aspects and delightfully fruity flavors, are two good bets. The highest scorer on body and taste, to my mind, was the ubiquitous du Boeuf.

Unlike its tongue-snapping tartness, finish is not typically a characteristic associated with Beaujolais Nouveau, and our scoring reflected it. The two noteworthy wines in this aspect, for me, were the Bouchard Ain and the du Boeuf. The Piron edges out the du Boeuf in the final group score, however, because of its consistency on all aspects relative to the five others.

Conclusions and Recommendations
One cannot lay claim to fine winemaking skills for this quickly made and rather pedestrian wine; its overall character implies its drinkability now as a celebrated ritual (if one can indeed call it drinkable) rather than a wine one boasts about after cellaring. But then, nobody should choose to cellar this type of wine. In fact, as I selected the Dominique Piron at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park, I was amused upon spying a basket of 2005 Nouveaus, many of them “giveaway” priced at $1.99. For that price, I might consider bathing in it as the Japanese do.

If you would shop for just any wine, don’t buy a Beaujolais Nouveau when you can buy something better. But if you want to find out what all the hoopla is about — and I recommend you do at some point in your tasting experience, if for no other reason than to establish a somewhat crude baseline — then take your pick from the top three BNs listed in the Group Ranking table above, and you’ll get a sense of what a truly young wine can be like. These wines were, after all, just grapes on a vine only a few short weeks ago.

~winehiker

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9 thoughts on “Blind Wine Tasting Notes: 2006 Beaujolais Nouveau

  1. As one of the members of Russ’ wine-tasting panel, I just wanted to add that I didn’t really enjoy any of the beaujolais nouveaux, but the Mommesin was one of the absolute worst grape-based wines I’ve ever tasted (ranking down there with Two-Buck Chuck). It was harsh and acidic and didn’t really improve with the food.

    Interestingly, Dottie Gaiter and John Brecher, the wine critics at the Wall Street Journal, really enjoyed the Mommesin and thought it was one of the best of this year’s batch of BN. Just goes to show you that the professionals and the masses don’t always agree on these things…

    Vindu

  2. Pingback: Sunny Saturday Links | Winehiker Witiculture

  3. I’ll certainly agree with Vindu that as a Beaujolais Nouveau, the Mommesin was dreck. (Two Buck Chuck is at least drinkable wine, and worth approximately $1.98 more.)

    Could it be that East Coast palates are different than West Coast palates?

  4. Beaujolais Nouveau is an interesting phenomenon and I spend more time marveling about the distribution logistics than contemplating the wine. I did attend a tasting and after a small amount of Georges de Boeuf became pleasantly distracted by a bottle of rather good burgundy … 🙂

  5. Thanks, Marsha, for mentioning the logistics angle, since I’ve come to wonder a bit about that myself. I’m sure du Boeuf and the other French distributors plan this mass-scale effort immediately after this year’s buzz wears off. But the folks who handle the shipping are DHL Danzas Air & Ocean, the air and ocean forwarding business unit of DHL’s logistics group. Apparently they’ve been handling the distribution of BNs for over 20 years.

    Funny you should mention the burgundy, too, since it’s the one thing I neglected to mention myself. After the six of us scored our fermented Kool-Aid the other night, we were all ready to taste a real wine. So I poured from my duck decanter, which contained an ’02 Row Eleven Pinot Noir from the Santa Maria Valley. I gave it 18.5 Winehiker Points!

  6. I’ve gone ahead and done so, and you or anyone can now “toast it” (kind of like giving it a “digg”) on the Newsroom page at winelifetoday.com.

    Thank you, Ryan — good tip!

  7. A very comprehensive review. Kudos! Now just direct that high powered perception and writing skill towards a variety that deserves it like say, a Pinot Noir or a Sauv Blanc! 😛

    Good stuff and look forward to more.

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