Beaujolais vieux

Once upon a time, in simpler and happier days, certain citizens of Lyon looked forward to mid-November, to the half-hour weekend drive north to the clustered villages of Beaujolais and a taste (or a bottle or a take-home case) of the frothy, ruby-colored new wine of the region, barely cooled from its fermentation and heady with fruit. But that was before marketing (or, as the French call it, marketing) turned Beaujolais Nouveau into a global craze. As the world turns this Nov. 15, as the international date line sweeps from east to west, wineshops and wine bars from London to Valparaiso, Oakland to Osaka will open at midnight sharp to dispense the 2001 "vintage" to fans willing to undergo considerable inconvenience for the privilege of paying a premium price for moderately alcoholic grape juice. Innocent? Sure, as harmless as collecting Beanie Babies. There's only one reason to disapprove of the annual folie de Nouveau: It distracts attention from the lovely, simple, but by no means unsubtle, wines that made Beaujolais famous in the first place. And the distraction has gotten serious enough that this year, the makers of quality Beaujolais staged a pre-emptive strike on the very eve of the '01 Nouveau's debut. The road show hit Seattle Nov. 1, under the sponsorship of the estimable French-American Chamber of Commerce. Members of the trade and press were privileged to sample three bottlings of the 2000 vintage of true Beaujolais, accompanied by pan-fried oysters and nuggets of Idaho-raised Kobe beef catered by El Gaucho. It's not clear that anybody in that crowd needed persuading of the virtues of vintage Beaujolais, but you don't have to be in immediate need of salvation to go to church, either. It was pleasant to hear once more the litany of Beaujolais village appelations: Brouilly, Ch鮡s, Chiroubles, Fleurie, Juli鮡s, Morgon, R駮i鬠Saint Amour, and, first among equals, Moulin ࠖent. Too much fuss may easily be made about the subtle distinctions between these wines, but the distinctions exist. And since good Beaujolais is about the easiest-drinkin' red wine on earth—and currently among the most price worthy—would-be wine snobs on a budget can get as persnickety about their taste as classified-growth Bordeaux freaks do, at something like a tenth the cost. It even has curative properties: A simple bottle of Beaujolais, a little bread and cheese, and even a wine snob may remember what made wine worth drinking in the first place. Everybody loves beverages! E-mail

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