Every family has a few stragglers around the holidays. These are you “Aunties” and “Uncles,” and in the Sullivan household, none is more welcome than our old friend Uncle Louie. That’s short for Louis Jadot Combe aux Jacques Beaujolais Villages. Which, in my book, I called “the world’s finest, dirt-cheap wine.”
A good guest should bring wine, and that wine should be like a good guest: pleasing, unstuffy, able to go with anything. At first, you might feel like a heel bringing a $10.99 bottle to Thanksgiving. But give it a taste. Preferably with a mouth full of mixed hors d’oeuvres.
The perfect wine after a three-hour ride to your beloved’s parents’ house for turkey dinner.
Here’s the joke to remember: A glass of Beaujolais Nouveau—like the French—gets drunk young.
Behold! The simple beaujolais. Made from hand-picked gamay grapes. (They’re thin-skinned, like most families around the holidays.) Here are the easy things to memorize when you’re quickly introducing it:
Beaujolais is the perfect accompaniment to the rich, fatty cuisine of Lyon (and therefore anything with butter).
There, they serve it in “pots.” Large, heavy-bottomed, unlabeled clear-glass bottles. It’s thirst-quenching, chummy and convivial this way, like a pitcher of beer.
Grapes are fermented for only a few days before being release on the third Thursday in November, which is “Beaujolais Nouveau Day” in France. So maybe act all out of breath like you just ran it over there.
This wine is actually a bit of a renegade for the region. Up to 15% can be made of other grapes, including white wine grape. White wine! In a red wine! Dangerous stuff here. (That will all be phased out by 2024 so they can focus on red.) But because the thin-skinned pinot noir can be grown in the region, it is permissible to blend it in. Pinot noir gives beaujolais a good earthy balance to hold its own with dark meat. However, that will all come to an end in 2015, meaning that this is the last Thanksgiving to get real beaujolais on the table.
If Uncle Louie were a family member, he’d be the one who gets louder after a few sips.
Beaujolais complements the largest array of Thanksgiving dishes: The most basic mashed potatoes, the spicy stuffing, the most expertly prepared gravy. Crudites, garlic bread, matzoh balls, etc. And choosing a beaujolais is simple: If you feel like getting a bottle to impress the family, pick one with a number on it. Crazy, I know. If you’re going to go that route, try 2011:
2011 Juliénas from Michel Tête’s Domaine du Clos du Fief ($21)
2011 Côte de Brouilly from Jean-Paul Brun’s Terres Dorées ($22)
Or if that’s your total budget, just go with two bottles of Uncle Louie (Louis Jadot, $11). It has some hints of cider spices, nice on a cold day. But when you match it with fatty meats and charcuterie it begins to get bolder, a sudden change in personality. If Uncle Louie were a family member, he’d be the one who gets louder after a few sips.
About a third of the product is “Beaujolais Nouveau.” This, again, debuts on the third Thursday of November and is made to be consumed that day, not stored. Here’s the joke to remember: A glass of Beaujolais Nouveau, like the French, gets drunk young. A couple of years ago, a certain strain of this became trendy and then fell out of fashion, meaning that there are blends of various vintages available for even less.
Now don’t overthink it. If you wanted to spend your money on something nice for the family, try a nice hostess gift. If you show up with a $90 bottle of some extinct vintage to impress some people you’ve never met, they will feel you hawkishly invading their tastebuds for appreciation. You and everyone else on Thanksgiving traveled a long way and are about to eat a long meal. So sip and let sip.
Now, what do you do if you’ve made your little speech and shared your fun facts and then Uncle Eric, supreme sommelier of the Jean-Georges kingdom arrives with a temperature controlled attache case of extinct vintages?
You are about to be Uncle Eric’s best friend. The barbarians and teenagers-promised-their-first-sip-of-wine at the table will attack that beaujolais as if it were in a pitcher. And Uncle Eric and the adults can have whatever he’s having.
You just might find yourself invited to share a glass with your future in-laws. Soon the family will be in dressing gowns, eating turkey sandwiches and reaching for your second bottle.