Beaujoials nouveau , made something of a splash in the market during the holiday season, but some of the best of it wasn't true beaujoials. It came from California in several forms, including Sebastiani's Gamay Beaujolais Nouveau, which sells for about $3.49, and Mirassou's Monterey Gamay Beaujolais Premier at $3.29 and up. The most satisfying nouveau from the Old Country I've tasted is one imported by Wines Ltd., and sold under the Caves de la Republic or Lemonon label. You should be able to find it priced from $3.29 to $3.69. This is one red wine you should serve chilled; not ice-cold, but cooled on a window sill or in the refrigerator for 15 or 20 minutes.
Beaujolais winemakers stole the march of their competitors some years ago by vinifying some of their grape juice very quickly and offering it for sale during the same fall in which it was produced. The wines are astonishingly young, bottled about six weeks after the grapes are barvested. Thus the arrival of Beaujolais labeled nouveau, premier or vin de l'annee in Paris, usually on Nov. 15, inspires a city-wide tasting party. Meanwhile, in Lyons, the major city closest to the Beaujolais region, pitchers are filled and re-filled with the wine to tide the Lyonnais through the winter until the mature Beaujolais is released.
But the Lyonnais drink their Beaujolais whether it is thick or thin, sweet or sour. We can afford to be more fussy. At their best these nouveau wines are fruity, soft and slightly spritzy -- a preview of coming attractions that wine lovers find fun to quaff and those who prefer grape juice can tolerate. At less than their best the French nouveau can be thin and sour, while the fruit in those from California may be lost beneath a heavy haze of alcohol.
There has been an effort to produce nouveau from grape other than the gamay and, in France, in regions other than Beaujolais. You may find one you like, but don't count on it. In this area, Maryland's Boordy Vineyards has released a 1979 premier and Tom O'Grady, a professor of English at Hampden-Sydney College, made Virginia's first "noveau foch" last fall in Prince Edward County.