When you think about November, the holiday that almost certainly comes to mind first is Thanksgiving. If you are in France or make your living selling wine, however, November also means the celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau Day on the third Thursday of the month. Beaujolais Nouveau Day began as a local tradition in the bars and bistros of the Beaujolais and Lyons regions of France. Under French law, Beaujolais Nouveau wine is released at 12:01am on that date, and over the last seven decades that day has grown into a holiday celebrated around the world. In this blog, I’d like to clear up some confusion around the difference between Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau, and also explain the history of Beaujolais Nouveau Day – and why you may want to celebrate it.
While both Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau wines are made from the Gamay noir à Jus blanc grape in the Beaujolais region of France, they are actually very different wines! Beaujolais Nouveau is pressed early and bottled only 6-8 weeks after the harvest. Despite its name, Beaujolais Nouveau is technically a vin primeur, rather than nouveau, since it is harvested and sold in the same year. In comparison, traditional Beaujolais wines are not released until a year or two after harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau was produced quickly after harvest so that it could be sold and enjoyed while the traditional Beaujolais wines were still in production. Unlike Beaujolais, Beaujolais Nouveau doesn’t improve with age – it is meant to be drunk young!
Beaujolais Nouveau was officially recognized in France by the Union Interprofessional des Vins de Beaujolais in 1951. At this new legitimacy, Paris took notice. The local tradition went national, and then international. In the 1950s, it was decided that the wine would be released on November 15th, but in 1985 the date was changed to the third Thursday of November, making the celebration more of a weekend affair. Over 100 festivals devoted to the wine are held in the Beaujolais region, but Beaujolais Nouveau Day is also popular in the United States, Japan, and Germany, among other countries. It’s a bit of a Hallmark holiday, built up via marketing and promotion, just like Valentine’s Day. The transportation of the wine can be a spectacle in itself – it’s been carried by Concorde jets, hot-air balloons, helicopters, and even elephants!
The celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau is a celebration of the harvest and new, fresh juice. It was never meant to be a serious wine, so it’s actually a great choice for a wide range of palates, including those inexperienced with wines. Beaujolais Nouveau is produced using a process called “carbonic marceration”, which doesn’t extract the bitter tannins from the skins of the grapes. It is fruitier and closer to the experience of a white wine, so it is easier to drink for people who normally shy away from a more astringent red. It’s also best served chilled, making it feel more like an alcoholic juice – very good for people who may not drink wine but would like to enjoy a glass with their family during the Thanksgiving season! Beaujolais Nouveau doesn’t pair well with red meat, but is a fine complement for lighter fare like turkey and cranberry sauce, making it a wonderful addition to your Thanksgiving Dinner. Like other holiday favourites like advent calendars and green beer, Beaujolais Nouveau isn’t generally available year round. If you haven’t tried Beaujolais Nouveau in the past, this November is the perfect chance to try something different and have some fun with it!