By Kirsten Keppel
To French ears, this clarion call signifies “the third Thursday in November” as much as the word “Thanksgiving” rings in American ears as meaning “the fourth Thursday in November.” According to French law the Beaujolais nouveau cannot be released before the third Thursday in November. Because the grape is young and white with a delicate flavor, and the wine undergoes fermentation only a few weeks before it is harvested, the law’s purpose is to let this light-bodied wine ferment just enough before going to the market. One of the best known red wines, Beaujolais comes from southern Burgundy in a vintage area that begins in Mâcon, sixty miles south of Beaune, and extends down near Lyon along the western bank of the Saône river. The name “Beaujolais” comes from the village of Beaujeu which was originally a barony; yet Villefranche, situated between Mâcon and Lyon, is the region’s principal nerve center.
Beaujolais is made by thousands of small producers who sell the wine to local shippers. Some of the shippers names are familiar in this country: Georges Duboeuf, Paul Beaudet, Louis Jadot, and Louis Latour are but a few examples.
The wine actually exists in three varieties: the Beaujolais nouveau (also called primeur), Beaujolais-Villages, and the 10 crus of Beaujolais. Only the first two–Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages–may be sold as Beaujolais nouveau.
They are richer, fuller wines that can accompany heartier foods. They last longer than their younger, lighter cousins.
The expression “le Beaujolais de l’Année” does refer to “Beaujolais nouveau.” It is an informal reference to wine from the most recent vintage.
The Beaujolais Nouveau comprises approximately one-third of the entire Beaujolais crop and is very popular in the United States. Harvested in September and October, this wine is less sturdy than those usually exported. It is best consumed before Christmas.
The Beaujolais Villages wines come from a number of villages in the center of the region. This soil is considered to produce better wines than the soil that lies farther south. The Villages family could be said to be “a cru above” its Beaujolais nouveau cousins according to “appellation contrôlée” requirements.
The 10 crus of Beaujolais come from 10 villages in the northernmost part of the region. These villages are often listed right on the wine label instead of the word Beaujolais: Fleurie, Côte de Brouilly, Juliénas, Chiroubles, Morgon, Saint-Amour, Chénas, Moulin-à-Vent, Brouilly, and Regnie. Often the labels on these wines only bear the name of one village and not the name “Beaujolais.”; Each cru has its own special characteristics; however, none of the crus may be sold as “Beaujolais nouveau.”The D.C. bistro Les Halles is wasting no time (literally) in emphasizing the importance of drinking the Beaujolais nouveau as soon as it is off the plane. Guests and patrons are invited to show up at “11:00 p.m. sharp” on Wednesday, November 20 to herald the wine’s arrival. Air France will escort the wine straight from Dulles Airport in a limousine to the bistro. The wine glasses will clink–legally–at “one minute after midnight on November 21,” affirms Les Halles’ owner Michel Vernon.
Les Halles will serve complimentary pork tripe, pig’s feet, and cassoulet to accompany the Beaujolais nouveau. If you can’t be in the nation’s capital for the event, you can catch it on CNN, which, along with local ABC news anchor Paul Berry, will provide coverage of the event.
1201 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Le Beaujolais Nouveau party begins at 11:00 p.m. sharp at Les Halles on Wednesday, November 20.