The Beaujolais Nouveau Has Arrived!
The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving in America, but the third Thursday of November is celebrated for quite another reason in France: the release of the newest vintage of young Beaujolais wine.
"Beaujolais Nouveau" is somewhat of an anomaly in the world of red wines: it is meant to be consumed fairly quickly after fermentation. It is generally made from gamay grapes, handpicked by law, and put through a winemaking process that results in a wine low in bitter tannins, highly fruited, sometimes carrying flavors like banana or pear.
It is actually a relatively new appellation, coming about as much by political means as anything else. During the hardships of the 1930s, the release and sale of new vintages was highly regulated and new wine was not allowed to hit the market until December 15th. In the 50s, the winemakers in the Beaujolais region petitioned to be allowed to sell a younger (vin primeur) wine at an earlier date, and this is how the Beaujolais Nouveau appellation came to be.
Since its inception, the popularity of the new wine grew, and it was eventually promoted around the world under the slogan, "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" Since none of the wine is allowed to even leave the warehouses until the appointed datem there is a high demand for the first taste of the year's vintage, and in cities everywhere there are celebrations, all topped with a mad dash to get the first sip as soon as the wine hits the shelves!
Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!
The first (and still the largest) celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau was the Fête des Sarmentelles held in 1989 in Beaujeu, the historic capital of the Beaujolais region, with wine tastings galore, festive dancing, revelers singing French drinking songs in the streets and nighttime street fairs.
The Sarmentelles festival, derived from the word sarment, meaning grapevine cuttings, launches on the eve of Beaujolais Nouveau day. Right before midnight on Wednesday, the festivities commence with an annual ceremony, marked by a torch-lit parade down the streets of Beaujeu, and the burning of the leftover vines. As soon as midnight strikes, the first barrels of the brand new wine are tapped and conviviality flows through the streets. Following this grand revelry on Thursday, over the next three days, the city welcomes a Beaujolais wine fair, showcasing the winemakers from all 12 Beaujolais appellations. Other weekend events include a country ball, a French pop music performance, and an organic and sustainable development fair. During the festivities, a tasting competition is held, where participants must identify the Beaujolais appellations of the wines they taste; as an incentive, the winner will take home his or her weight in wine.
Elsewhere around France, towns revel in the new harvest, with bars pouring freely and entertainment in the streets. In Lyon, the Beauj'olympiades festival is hosted, lighting up the city with fireworks, music and two days of wine tastings. In Paris bistros and restaurants, the new wine is served and celebrated as soon as the clock strikes midnight.