The annual race to bring back the new beaujolais vintage started off as friendly rivalry between Clement Freud and wine merchant Joseph Berkmann. In 1972, the Sunday Times diarist Allan Hall turned it into a national pastime.
With the official release date of 15 November, came the first invasion of planes and boats and trains. Led, in France, by Georges Duboeuf and his glamorous cohorts of chefs, musicians and film stars, the nouveau phenomenon epitomised what the gamay grape was all about: a juicy, cherryish red with no delusions of grandeur. It was simply a jolly good drink everyone could enjoy with a saucisson.
That was before the nubile young red from north of Lyon was defiled by producers blinded by greed and a wine trade cynically using it as a route into Christmas. By the 1990s, the novelty had worn as thin as the wine. Derided as what one critic called a vin de merde (crap wine), beaujolais was supplanted in our affections by the New World promise of better reds with more flavour.
According to Jasper Morris, MW, who has put together an offer of "real" beaujolais for Berry Bros & Rudd, "the wretched nouveau, such a brilliant marketing idea at the outset, has ended up as a form of homeopathic inoculation against beaujolais – one small dose in November and you don't have to touch the stuff for the rest of the year. This is a tragedy for those still making exciting wine of quality and durability". There's the rub. It's ironic that it is nouveau that has blinded us to the revival of good beaujolais, the best of which tends to come from Beaujolais-Villages and the 10 crus, or appellations.
Based on the exceptional 2009 vintage, Berry Bros' offer (firstname.lastname@example.org) mingles lighter and refreshingly juicy styles with richer, more serious styles that need time. In the former category, the 2009 Beaujolais Vieilles Vignes, from Alain Chatoux, £9.95, has the requisite thirst-quenching raspberryish character of a good young beaujolais, as too does the fragrant and vibrantly dark cherryish savoury depth of the 2009 Côte de Brouilly, Clos Bertrand from Château Thivin, £15.50 and the delightfully floral 2009 Fleurie, Les Moriers from Michel Chanard, £14.95.
In contrast, the spicy Juliénas Les Paquelets, Vieilles Vignes, from Eve and Michel Rey, £15.50, and the red-fruits-centred Moulin-à-Vent, La Roche, from burgundy's Thibault Liger-Belair, £189 a case in bond, are serious reds needing time to blossom.
Elsewhere, from Domaine Rolland, the 2009 P. Ferraud et Fils, around £10.50, Hercules Wine Warehouse ( herculeswines.co.uk), Thomas Panton ( wineimporter.co.uk), is a cherryish example of fine gamay. At The Wine Society, the 2009 Juliénas, Maison Trenel et Fils, L'Esprit de Marius Sangouard, £9.50, is in similar mould, with violety scents and powerful black cherry fruit.
The high street, too, is getting its beaujolais act together, with the 2009 Beaujolais Villages from Cave du Château Les Loges, £5.98, Tesco, a summery quaffing style the French like to call gouleyant. At Majestic, the 2009 Morgon Château de Pizay, £8.99, buy 2 = £6.99, is a dark cherried, spicy gamay with mouthwatering acidity. In its summer list, Waitrose has an aromatic, lively and pristine red-fruited gamay in the 2009 Brouilly, Henry Fessy, £9.99. Is it wishful thinking to imagine that beaujolais really is on the brink of a renaissance? For its and our sake, let's hope not. anthonyrosewine.com