Japan Eats

Boozehound: Beaujolais Nouveau 2009 hits shelves today!

Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and what a nice coincidence that the young wines of Southern Europe have just arrived!

Released on the third Thursday of November every year, French distributors such as the inimitable Georges Deboeuf and Mommessin, Beaujolais Nouveau has been a marketing sensation around the world for a number of years now. Tastings, club parties, and high-priced dinners abound, and it wasn’t too long ago that customers would wait in line to sweep bottles of the fruity red wine off the shelves of their local retailer.

Beaujolais Nouveau on display in a Tokyo convenience store.

Beaujolais Nouveau on display in a Tokyo convenience store.

Such was certainly the case here in Japan, the land of ‘if it’s French, then we naturally understand and will pay through the nose for it‘. During the height of the craze, well over 12 million bottles of the stuff were purchased at an average price of around 2,000 yen (US$20, give or take). That was back in 2004 when the marketing machine had everyone enthused that Japan was among the first to taste these young wines due to a simple advantage afforded by geographical location.

But this is 2009. Less than five million bottles are slated for sale this year, and many of them will be sold in plastic PET bottles (cork or screwtop?). The price has also dropped considerably with supermarket group, Aeon, slashing prices to less than 1,000 yen (around US$10).

Part of this has to do with the fact that the cost of shipping has dropped (PET bottles are considerably lighter than glass), and then there’s also the claim that the current global economic environment is poopy.

However, it seems like there’s another possible explanation here–the Beaujolais Nouveau shipped to Japan generally just isn’t all that good. People who can afford to buy wine will buy wine regardless of downturns in the economy, but they’re not going to buy wine that isn’t tasty.

Which is not to say that Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be top rate. Last year I personally sampled a wonderful Beaujolais Nouveau at my local bar after foolishly offering the opinion that they were merely quaffers for suckers. Of course, it goes without saying that the wine I tasted that evening was not available on the shelves of your local supermarket or convenience store (1,500 yen per glass), but the truth is that there are a number of very nice vins primeurs available to the discerning wine imbiber.

And there’s nothing wrong with a wine being quaffable. Just don’t get suckered in by all the marketing hype. At the same time, now that Beaujolais Nouveau can be had for less than a thousand yen per bottle, maybe we’re getting closer to the point where sampling a bit of this quick-spoiling wine is worth the price tag.

Anyway, there will likely be a few bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau adorning the spread at my thanksgiving dinner next week, and I look forward to trying this year’s vintage which, due to excellent growing conditions for the Gamay grape, has been pronounced better than anything produced in the last five decades.

If you’re planning to crack a bottle or two open, make sure that it’s not served too cold. Ideal temperature is about 13 degrees Celsius. However, if you get a particularly floral bottle, you might want to chill it a bit to make it more drinkable.

And if you just don’t really care that much either way, you can follow Waverly Root’s mantra: “Drink wine every day, at lunch and dinner, and the rest will take care of itself.”

About Jun Sakai
Jun Sakai was born to drink. For real. After growing up in the industry, he moved on to bartending, distributing, and other facets of the trade before settling into a comfortable life with a day job, freeing him to seek out all that is potable and noteworthy in the Tokyo area.