It’s November and that means Beaujolais Nouveau for the wine world here in Japan. While in many other countries (especially France, perhaps) the entire spectacle has become passe, in Japan we love our annual rituals and comfortably familiar events, and so dutifully exult in the 解禁 or “lifting of the ban” on Beaujolais Nouveau wine each third Thursday in November.

In keeping with the spirit of things I picked up a bottle on the way home on the 20th to share with R and my visiting Mother-in-Law. As is typically the case we ended up with a 35 dollar bottle of mediocre, light red wine. While the wine is touted as being light, fresh and fruity, the reality is more often than not a simple, bland and immature wine that leaves one wondering what all the fuss is about.

No surprise, then, that the thrill is starting to wear off even here in Japan, which imported a whopping 47 percent of the harvest this year. Expecting depressed sales, Suntory, a large distribtor, this year cut imports 18% to just 1.7 million liters, or the same amount consumed in all of France.

The following day we enjoyed a biodynamically created Beaujolais Nouveau with lunch at the Kunashita location of Le Petit Tonneau (great restaurants, these) which was also a bit underwhelming. Even M.C., the fellow who imports and sells the wine here, made a face after taking the first sip, and immediately had the waiter bring another wine from the same producer, Michel Guignier.

While the Nouveau was purplish and bland, the Morgon Cuvee Bio Vitis that followed it was deep, rich and complex. It turns our the two are made with grapes from the very same vineyard. The difference was the 18 months in cask and bottle for the latter. Beaujolais Nouveau wines are drunk 6-8 weeks afrer the harvest, and have been “whole berry fermented” using carbonic maceration and the pasteurized. I suppose it’s hard to imagine much complexity coming from that. The Morgon, however, was excellent.

At the restaurant we also had the great pleasure of enjoying Cassoulet, a wonderful rustic French stew of white beans and assorted meats, such as pork, pork sausage, duck, mutton and goose. The portion seemed small but was surprisingly filling and oh-so good! Lack of ingredients (particularly the sausage) will make this one hard to make at home, but I’m keen to try something based on the basic recipe.