Caveat Vendor

The annual Beaujolais nouveau craziness has peaked once more and is already fading, leaving behind smiling wine promoters and wine stewards, not a few hangovers, and a thoughtful shaking of heads among the cognoscenti: Really, how gauche . . . but does it really matter? Well, no, it doesn't, if you don't care about Beaujolais. But if you're inordinately fond of this most generous, undemanding, and endearing of all wines, the nouveau craze has proved a disaster, a marketing idea that grew to such a scale, it devoured its own head. Beaujolais nouveau was always a stunt, even in France. Originally, it was apparently a way for the citizenry of the Beaujolais region to celebrate the end of harvest, by toasting each other with the barely fermented juice of the native gamay grape. Like all such local traditions, the nouveau ritual (which takes place on the first day in November that the current year's wine can legally be released) soon attracted the attention of, let's not say the unscrupulous, but those more interested in making a buck than making good wine. If the suckers are willing to drive down from Paris to drink the vinous equivalent of grape-flavored Snapple, well, why not encourage them, and tack on a few francs extra to show them they're getting their money's worth? All harmless enough, until easy airline shipping allowed the promotion to burgeon worldwide, inspiring slaphappy behavior similar to, if not so extreme as, Tolkienites camping outside the Cinerama for their Ring fix. For many wine drinkers, even experienced ones, Beaujolais is nouveau, and never mind all of the delightful variations between plain generic Beaujolais, the somewhat superior Beaujolais villages appellation, and all the subtle but unmistakable shades that differentiate the wines of the 10 Beaujolais communes, with their lovely names: Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte-de-Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin à Vent, Régnié, and Saint Amour. Worst of all: The Beaujolais traditionalists who stuck to making (and aging, however briefly) their wines began to discover that consumers resisted buying them, saying they were too expensive (good Beaujolais is one of the world's wine bargains), too hard to pronounce (ouf!), or—deepest insult of all—not "fun" enough. If there ever were a classic case of "be careful what you wish for," the fate of Beaujolais is it. Why not tip a glass of Fleurie tonight to help take the curse off?

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