This is a fun time to be a wine drinker in France. For that matter, if you're a wine lover who doesn't take yourself too seriously, then it's a fun time to be a wine drinker here, too.
The third Thursday of November is the release day for Beaujolais Nouveau. Everywhere from the bistros of Paris to brasseries of Lyon, bursts with joyous celebration of the first wine of the year. Waiters can be seen wearing bright t-shirts with the phrase, "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" while Francophones crowd the bars and cafes to gulp down this simple, fruity wine.
And it's not just Francophones getting in on the act. A quick Google search will show weekend-long parties across the globe.
From tasting seminars in Vancouver wine stores, to special Nouveau menus in Halifax bistros, everyone's getting in the spirit. In Ontario, the LCBO will carry on its tradition of rolling out nouveau wines on the big day. This year, nine new products will hit store shelves on the 17th, including Nouveau darlings Duboeuf Gamay Nouveau and Mommessin Beaujolais Nouveau. Priced under $15 and only stocked in limited quantities, Nouveau lovers usually snap them up within a month.
Despite the international fanfare, nay-sayers will be quick to point out these Beauj celebrations are a bit passé, and that Nouveau isn't really anything to get that excited about. And they have a point: Beaujolais Nouveau is made with Gamay grapes that come from the lesser vineyards of the Beaujolais appellation in the south of Burgundy. (The top 10 vineyards are reserved for the more sophisticated Beaujolais Cru that's released later).
The quick release date also means the wine doesn't age long enough to develop any real nuance: only about seven to nine weeks from vineyard to bottle -- hence the "nouveau" part.
To get the wine ready that fast, winemakers use a process called carbonic maceration, whereby the weight of whole clusters of grapes begins fermentation instead of crushing individual grapes.
The end result is a bright red wine with virtually no tannins, that's gulpable, grapey, and tastes somewhat like Swedish Berry gummies.
But complex and refined was never Nouveau's lot in life. A century ago, Parisians needed a little something for their autumn celebrations. In response, Beaujolais winemakers sent barrels of their simple, just-ready wines to urbanites to quaff while waiting for the "real" wines to be ready.
But by the '80s crowds were fêting the release of the first wines in swanky celebrations around France. It was such a party, that about 25 years ago the French government officially decreed third Thursday in November as Beaujolais Nouveau's official release date. Today, about a third of all wine production in Beaujolais is Nouveau.
Beaujolais Nouveau will never be a serious contender like Bordeaux -- or even its more distinguished cousin, Beaujolais Cru. It is like the wine equivalent of running through a sprinkler on a warm summer day -- innocent joy and good for a giggle. And in a month where grey days give way to darkness by 5 p.m., maybe the French were on to something all along.