Samantha Dugan stuck her head into my office and said, "I need some food pairng advice for a couple of our customers."
As I got up from my desk, she whispered, "Red wine for liver and onions."
Samantha doesn't do offal, but she knew I'd endured many years of overcooked, dried-out liver in my youth, although this particular organ meat isn't something Dale and I cook at home and rarely, if ever, order out.
My mind sorted through its imaginary flashcard file of red wine types as I made my way toward our customers, now standing at the edge of our French wine department. My personal search engine landed on Beaujolais, which is the most reliable food support in all the realm of red wine.
I pointed first at the last bottles of 2012 Nouveau Beaujolais, now red-tagged at $8.99, yet perfectly fine as a vin ordinaire. Then I pointed out the overachieving Dupeuble 2011 Beaujolais, a worthy successor (at $13.99) to the amazingly popular 2010. Our customers were going to a dinner party and they thought they should be spending more on a bottle of wine. My attention focused on the 2011 Regnie from Domaine des Braves ($18.99), a generously flavored, richly textured Cru Beaujolais I had enjoyed at our recent Oscar party the week before.
Our customers took my recommendation to heart and happily left the store, confidently prepared for liver and onions, though I'm sure they expected to pay much more for that evening's dinner wine.
The gist is, you can't pay much more for any Beaujolais. It is not a wine that has been glamorized by the American wine press, mostly because it is not meant to be a stand-alone icon like modern-day Cabernet Sauvignon.
It wasn't always this way. My 1965 edition of Frank Schoonmaker's Encyclopedia of Wine defines Beaujolais as "one of the most popular and best-loved wines of France...few wines go so wonderfully well with good food, and fine Beaujolais is unquestionably among the most agreeble red table wines in the world, fruity, full-bodied, with a special, almost spicy flavor and no trace of harshness."
Beaujolais is a wine best drunk young, when it is full of charm and liveliness. It is not a wine meant to be cellared. It is what I like to call a wine for real life. A useful wine. A wine to be enjoyed, but not worshiped, although I've had many meals where the combination of food and the right Beaujolais was an occasion worthy of adulation.
1988's Adventures on the Wine Route author and importer Kermit Lynch writes, "Beaujolais must be the most inspired invention in the history of wine. What a concept, downing a newborn wine that has barely left the grape, a wine that retains the cornucopian spirit of the harvest past. It even serves to remind us of the first time man tasted fermented grape juice and desided it was an accident of nature worth pursuing." Kermit calls the best of these "living wines."
In The Oxford Companion to Wine, Master of Wine Jancis Robinson describes Beaujolais this way: "Early-drinking Beaujolais at its best provides the yeardstick for all the world's attempts to put red refreshment into a bottle, being a wine that is essentially flirtatious, with a juicy aroma which, combined with its promise of appetizing acidity, is sufficient to release the gastric juices before even a mouthful of the wine has been drunk. In this sense, Beaujolais is the very antithesis of the intense, barrel matured reds currently considered the height of fashion..."
That brings me back to the subject of real life. Cheap, mass-produced Beaujolais is a pretty dull wine, as are many Nouveau Beaujolais. But when the Gamay Noir of able growers is made into wine by small-production artisans, well, we are talking about the potential for pure joy at the table.
Last night Dale looked into her sheaves of printed-out recipes from magazines and friends and found one from Food and Wine that made use of some andouille and chicken we conveniently had in our refrigerator, Chicken-and-Andouille Etouffee over rice. The recipe calls for seasoning with salt and black pepper, served over rice, with hot sauce.
Food and Wine's asinine wine suggestion: "Pinot Noir is a terrific partner for light, spicy stews like this one." I shit you not.
Honestly, did recipe author Grace Parisi actually drink Pinot Noir with this dish? Of all the wines in the world to select with hot sauce and spicy sausage, this is her best?
Pinot Noir, the queen of red wine, noted for its subtle aromas and flavors, for its ethereal character, for its ability to haunt one's dreams, should never be served with spicy foods of any kind. Unless you are pairing it with the Pinot I tried the other night with its 15.7% alcohol and its sweet, thick, Grenache-like flavor. The heat from the andouille and the heat from the Pinot-Grenache could raise the dead, or certainly amplify the hellish heat level to smoldering, enabling one to lower the thermostat and save on gas bills.
I looked into our wine chiller and found a bottle of 2011 Domaine Chignard Fleurie ($24.99), one of the most beautiful examples of Cru Beaujolais at its silky, seductive best. Served at 55 degrees, the coolness of the wine provided a fruity counterpart to the spice in the sausage (I passed on the hot sauce). And though the recipe was a disaster beyond belief--actually making andouille boring--the wine was perfect.