France is undoubtedly the most famous wine-producing country in the world and Beaujolais is one of their most popular red wines. Each year at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of November over a million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey to Paris for immediate international distribution. One of the most animated rituals in the wine world has now begun – a worldwide race to be the first to serve this new wine of the harvest. At the same time, banners are erected proclaiming: “Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrivé!” – “The New Beaujolais has arrived!” and along with this begins the annual celebration of the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau. This celebration is steeped in tradition, frivolity, grandeur, legend, and bien sûr great wine!
This wine-producing region covers parts of the north of the Rhône département (Rhône-Alpes) and parts of the south of the Saône-et-Loire département (Burgundy). This region produces twelve officially designated types of Beaujolais known as AOCs, which include some of the finest and priciest grand crus, including Fleurie and Cote de Brouilly. The most common two are Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages, the former accounts for half of the region’s annual output, and is used to make Beaujolais Nouveau.
Six to eight weeks earlier the wine was merely a cluster of Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc grapes (Gamay) in a grower’s vineyard. By expeditious harvest, rapid fermentation, and speedy bottling the wine is ready to drink. This wine is as close to a white wine as a red wine can get – the must is pressed after three days, therefore the astringent tannins normally found in red wines are not evident, leaving light, fresh fruity notes. Beaujolais Nouveau is bright cherry red or violet in colour and is to be served at 10°C (50°F). The race from grape to glass may seem absurd, but half the fun is knowing that on the same night around the world in restaurants, bistros and homes everyone will be celebrating the first wine of the year.
There are over 120 Beaujolais Nouveau festivals held in the region with the most famous Les Sarmentelles. This five-day festival is held in the town of Beaujeu and features wine tasting, live music and dancing. During the afternoon on Beaujolais Nouveau Day wine and local foods are available for sampling. There is also a tasting contest featuring all twelve Beaujolais with the winner receiving his or her weight in Beaujolais-Villages! Later that evening there is a torchlit parade through the town honoring the growers and producers, with the Grande Finale ‘Fireworks at Midnight which marks the release of the new wine.
The town of Salles-en-Beaujolais also holds a ‘Beaujolais Nouveau Hike’ each year, which features tours of cellars around the area. A less obvious event is Le Marathon du Beaujolais, which is a three-day event in which participants taste the wine after running a marathon! Everywhere in France street parties are held for locals and tourists to taste the new wine. It’s one of the few times you’ll ever see en masse drinking in France!