Not many wines spark as much anticipation as Beaujolais Nouveau. Every year there’s a race to see who can be the first to get this fresh young wine to Paris.
When French wine merchants put out their signs ‘Le Nouveau Beaujolais EST arrivé’ on the third Thursday in November. The days are short, the skies are grey, the sun seems far away and I am ready for a pleasant, light, summery red wine to sip as I stare into the log fire remembering routes shakily taken in July as we dribbled from one winery to another. One summer, I remember, we went in search of some St Amour, which we had drunk in the ‘Aux Lyonnais’ restaurant in Paris. When we did find it, it didn’t taste as good as we had remembered but we didn’t care!
Generally Beaujolais, of any stripe, is fruity with hints of cherries or blackcurrant. If you have to drink it slightly chilled for it to pass muster then, for me, it is not worth drinking. Beaujolais is produced from the Gamay grape on the hillsides along the Rhone/ Saone valleys between Macon and Lyon and despite various scandals associated with its production (sugared and mixed) in the early 2000’s is still worth the candle.
There are three distinctive types of Beaujolais:
- Beaujolais AOC which got its AOC definition just before 1939 and is the true Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais Primeur. This means it is harvested and sold within a few months, the first date of sale being the third Thursday of November or the Wednesday night at 12 .01!
- Beaujolais – Villages which also has an AOC but cannot be sold until the March following the harvest so has at the least 6-7 months in the barrel.
- Cru de Beaujolais wines which are the highest classification where the ‘cru’ consists of the entire area rather than the fruits of one vineyard which is the case with other wines. You have to know the Cru de Beaujolais by name as the word Beaujolais rarely appears on the label. My very favourite is St Amour and is the first Beaujolais produced just south of Macon. This is followed by Julienas, Chenas, Moulin a Vent, Fleurie, Chiroubles, Morgon, Regnie, Brouilly and Cotes de Brouilly just outside Lyon.
Although the French have hardly any notion of marketing and have had to borrow the word from English, some bright spark hit upon the idea of selling the just-produced wine very young to benefit immediately from their summer of hard work. There soon followed the idea of a race to be the first to get Beaujolais Nouveau to Paris and then the idea spread. Well-heeled British businessmen would hire light aircraft to be the first to land on British soil with the fruity young wine. There was, and still is, a certain Monty Pythonesque/Keystone Cops air about all the media hype and festivities.
This is a busy time of the year for us so we can’t get away to the Beaujolais to partake of the New Beaujolais Festivities along the wine route. Beaujeu, a pleasant little town in the hills southwest of Macon is the local centre for the festivities called ‘Les Sarmentelles de Beaujeu’. On the Wednesday night, a procession of carts full of flaming vine shoots (Sarments) precedes the arrival of the new wine at the hall where there is a song and dance show, a presentation of medals to various wine makers and a good meal as soon as the new wine has been opened at midnight. This is followed by dancing and carousing until the wee small hours!
I have treasured memories of magic moments and lazy crazy days of sizzling summers sitting in local leafy parks in the Beaujolais when we ate fresh baked crusty bread with a creamy Camembert splurged on to it. We bit into huge red ripe tomatoes, the juices running down our chins and quaffed our inexpensive wine, delighting in its easy, undemanding and totally delicious taste.
We were the impoverished Brits who hit every winery in the valley, slurping and hiccupping our way south to seek the sun. Because we were so poor after the war, the British Government didn’t want us to take too much cash out of the country so, unlike French holidaymakers, we couldn’t buy more than one bottle in any winery. My sister, I am afraid, chose the wineries for the handsome wine sellers – there was one who looked like a young Maurice Chevalier and spoke English with a very sexy French accent – rather than the well-stocked wine cellars.
This year, instead of going to a restaurant with friends to celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, as has become our habit, we planned taste the wine at home with an ‘Aperitif Dinatoire’ (a meal consisting of little ‘amuse-gueules’ of different types).
I decided to buy three bottles from my local supermarket, one friend would buy three from her supermarket and another would bring three from her wine merchant. With that choice and enough nibbles to keep us from getting plastered we could see which of the wines proved best. The huge problem with French wines (and at the same time their glory) is that the year, the side of the hill and the producer do make a difference to the final taste and, of course, taste is very personal.
For our Aperitif Dinatoire, I planned several types of air-dried sausage (Rosette de Lyons for example), a pate de foie de volaille (chicken liver pate) and perhaps some little Coq au Vin pies or serve oeufs en meurette. I set in wine jelly my precious blackcurrants in alcohol and serve some cheeses local to the Beaujolais region like Epoisses, Brillat Savarin, Maconnais or a persille de Beaujolais. If there some wines proved too acidic for our elderly palates, I planned to use them up next week to make a Coq au Vin— a typical Beaujolais dish, spectacularly badly cooked for us 20 years ago by the Coq d’Or in Julienas.
Courtesy of tourist offices of the area
2 Map of Beaujolais area
3 Presentations of Honors – Sarmentelles de Beraujeu
4 Local Band during the Competition in Sarmentelles