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Taste the First French Wine of the Year During Beaujolais Nouveau

Published by Bill Lehane, Writer

Country: France

The Experience

While wine lovers the world over have different palates and different favourites, France is undoubtedly the most famous wine-producing country, and the Beaujolais is its most famous red wine. On the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday of November each year, Beaujolais Nouveau is celebrated by drinking the wine from grapes harvested that summer. Dubbed “Beaujolais Nouveau Day,” parties are held all over France and further afield to celebrate the first wine of the season. There are about 120 Beaujolais Nouveau related festivals held in the Beaujolais region alone, and some bottles from the six-week-old crop are also sent to oenophiles around the globe in time to be uncorked for the occasion.

Located in the heart of the Rhone-Alpes region of eastern central France, the Beaujolais wine-making region produces twelve officially-designated types of Beaujolais known as AOCs. This dozen includes some of the finest and priciest grand crus (big vintage) wines around, including Fleurie and Cote de Brouilly. The most common two are the Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages, the former of which account for half of the region's annual output, and are used to make Beaujolais Nouveau.

The most famous festival—Les Sarmentelles—is held in the town of Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region. Kicking off in the early evening the day before Beaujolais Nouveau, the five-day festival features wine tasting, live music and dancing. During the afternoon on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, a heated tent offers wine and a range of local foods for visitors to sample. There is also a tasting contest featuring all of the twelve kinds of Beaujolais, in which the winner wins his or her weight in Beaujolais-Villages! Later that evening, a torchlit parade through the town honours the farmers that made the wine. Fireworks at midnight mark the release of the new wine during Beaujolais Nouveau, which is then drank until dawn.

In Lyons, the nearest large city, fireworks and two days of tasting mark the 'Beaujol'ympiades'. The town of Salles-en-Beaujolais holds a Beaujolais Nouveau Hike each year featuring tours of cellars around the area. A less obvious but no less celebrated event is Le Marathon du Beaujolais, a three-day event in which participants taste the wine after running a marathon! And if you are in another part of France altogether—fear not, because in towns and cities up and down the country, street parties are held for locals to taste the new brew. It's one of the few times you'll ever see this kind of drinking en masse in France!

As for the wine itself, Beaujolais Nouveau is known for its bright cherry red colour. Fresh and tasty, with fruity flavors and flowery aromas, it's a wine to be enjoyed (in the words of the local tourism authorities) at 10°C (50°F) on all occasions and at all times. Santé (Cheers!).

When to Go to Beaujolais Nouveau

Located 40 miles from Beaujeu, Lyon is the closest city to fly to the Beaujolais Region. Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport serves a few dozen international cities, mostly elsewhere in Europe. Seven miles from the city, coach services are available to take you to the centre of Lyon or other towns in the region.

If you're flying from outside Europe into Paris, the express train service (known as the TGV) is a good option for getting to Lyon rapidly while enjoying the view of the French countryside. Adult fares for the two-hour train ride start at about US$125, with a range of generous discounts available for children, students and seniors.

If you're renting a car, it's about a 50-minute drive from Lyon to Beaujeu, with most of the small towns easily accessible from the A6 highway. During the festival, a special bus runs between Lyon and Beaujeu, departing Lyon at 7 p.m. and returning from Beaujeu at 1 a.m. Tickets are US$5.75.

Odds n' Ends

If you are planning to stay in one of the smaller towns or visit some of the vineyards, be sure to bring someone that speaks some French, as English may not be spoken. Otherwise consider staying in a large hotel in one of the bigger cities, or taking a Beaujolais Nouveau tour.

Driving on French roads is comparable to most other developed countries, although on the other side for many drivers. Expect frequent tolling on the major highways.

If you're accustomed to fine vintage wines, bear in mind that Beaujolais Nouveau is as young as it gets, and will taste quite different from the aged varieties.

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Discover the homeland of this unique grape variety, including the famous Roche de Solutré as well as the villages which have contributed to the worldwide renown of the region
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