Taste the First French Wine of the Year During Beaujolais Nouveau
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
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
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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