I've said pretty much everything there is to say about Thanksgiving in previous blogs and columns (like here, and here) so this year I will focus on the REAL symbol of the holiday: Georges Duboeuf's Beaujolais Nouveau. Sure, it's a crappy wine in a tacky bottle, but similar to cranberry sauce (both in taste and color), it wouldn't be Thanksgiving without it.
The gimmick is that the wine is the first of the harvest and vintage. In fact, it's so fresh, in order to have it on store shelves in time for the holiday, the first shipment has to be sent over by plane, which adds a couple bucks to the price. You can get the exact same bottle for $5 less a week later when it arrives on our shores via boat. But where's the fun in that?
Plus, like I said, the wine itself is crap. A glorified fruit juice that just so happens to get you drunk. You don't have to be an oenophile to know that young wine is not a good thing, but that's Beaujolais Nouveau's claim to fame. "We're first!" they proudly shout, which is much different than, "We're Number 1" (although it does tastes like it!)
So why do I celebrate the day with bad wine? And how did it become my personal symbol of the holiday? To tell you the truth, I have no freaking clue! Much like how no one really likes fruit cakes or Hickory Farms gift baskets at Christmas, yet they still get them, this fruity wine winds up on my table every year. The only difference is I go out of my way to buy it (well not that far out of my way, as I'll already be at the package store buying lots of real wine and good beer, but you get the point.)
What you still don't get is why. And neither do I. It just somehow became a tradition. And like most good traditions, it defies logic. There's nothing rational about running around the house beating on a pot with a wooden spoon to ring in the new year, but we do. There's no real reason for hiding, and then trying to find, the Christmas Pickle ornament on the tree, but we do. And there's no point in putting out a bowl of mixed nuts still in the shell that no one ever eats, but we do it every year. Because it's tradition. It's what you do. Some are fun, and some are just done. But you have to do them because holidays without traditions are just...days.
Which may be why I mark this particular holiday by drinking a wine that is literally days old. When we toast to the days past, and to the days ahead, and drink to the times we've had and to the time we have, the unaged wine serves as a reminder that while things do get better with time, we need to appreciate the present as well. Even if it is overly sweet and fruity!
My favorite Beaujolais Nouveau story comes from Thanksgiving 2008. What happened was, after finding out in July that my wife was pregnant, I voluntarily gave up drinking as a sign of solidarity. At the time, I didn’t consider the calendar, which was a good thing, as I would have noticed that nine months starting in the middle of the summer would take me from the height of picnic season to Oktoberfest, and straight (literally) through the holiday season. But since I loved my wife, and don’t drink alone, it didn’t really seem like that big of a deal. And it wasn’t. Much.
I made it all the way to Thanksgiving, where I was enviously watching my brother open "his" second bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau when my wife picked up his glass and took a sip.
“What was that?” I asked in disbelief.
“What? It was just a sip…”
“I know, but you’re drinking…”
“No. I took a sip.”
“Yes, but technically, you’re drinking. You just drank wine. And I said I wouldn’t drink until you could.”
“So? So you drank! That means I can too! Pass that bottle over here!”
Had this loophole not been discovered, I would have dutifully carried out my commitment through April. But once you open Pandora's Box, or bottle, it's hard to put a lid on it. Thus began a several months of me forcing my wife to sip off of things I wanted to drink. Sometimes I’d just dip my finger in a glass and touch it to her lips. So long as she imbibed first, I was in the clear!