Beaujolais Nouveau Offers a Taste of Tradition and a Glimpse of the Future

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Every year, on the third Thursday of November, the latest Beaujolais Nouveau wines are released in France. This "new" wine is bottled just a few weeks after it's been harvested and fermented. The annual release has been a tradition for sixty years and is surrounded by much fanfare in its native land. What began as a way for wine makers to turn a quick profit after harvest--and locals to taste a preview of the new vintage--was further buoyed by marketing schemes such as a road race to Paris, casks of wine tapped at midnight amid crowds and fireworks displays, and carnival-like festivals throughout France. Around the world--and around Seattle each year--Francophiles can join the celebration at parties themed for the occasion, or by picking up some of the well-priced bottles at their local wine shop.

The marketing machine behind Beaujolais Nouveau has its share of critics. Some say it gives other Beaujolais wines a bad name, while others think it's overpriced plonk. Regardless of what you think, if you've ever been in France and enjoyed Beaujolais Nouveau from a freshly tapped cask, it's hard to not get caught up in the magic. It's a seasonal celebration--the first chance to enjoy the fruits of that year's labor and get a taste of what the new vintage has in store once it's spent a few more months in the barrel.

This youthful wine is light in flavor, with little tannins, making it easy to drink and pair with food. Some have said it's as close to a white wine a red wine can get. Many people like to serve it at the Thanksgiving table, especially since the timing is right and the prices make it an affordable wine for a crowd. Jameson Fink, the wine contributor at Foodista.com, suggests giving Beaujolais Nouveau about half and hour in the fridge so it has a slight chill to it before bringing it to the table. Fink also likes to encourage people interested in Nouveau for a few weeks out of the year to think about Beaujolais year-round. "Beaujolais-Villages and especially Cru Beaujolais are some of the world's most criminally underrated wines. They are distinctive, elegant reds that would please fans of Pinot Noir."

James Lechner, the General Manager and Wine Director at Bastille in Ballard, agrees. At Bastille's Beaujolais Nouveau celebration on Thursday, November 17, Lechner will be pouring several Cru Beaujolais, in addition to the latest Beaujolais Nouveau. "This is a great way to see, via comparison with fun-n-fruity Beaujolais Nouveau, what the appellation is capable of," says Lechner. Of Nouveau's critics, Lechner thinks they're missing the point. "This is just-fermented juice---a first glimpse at the vintage, and should not be taken as serious wine, but rather something fun to gulp in praise of making it through another harvest. That's what Beaujolais Nouveau means to me, at least, and what I think it once meant to many."

The French-American Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest has created a tradition of its own that is celebrating its 19th year this month. They bring together Francophiles to enjoy the wine's release each year at their Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Festival. Casey Marie Mochel, the Chamber's Executive Coordinator laments that many are unfamiliar with Beaujolais Nouveau. "Perhaps they expect it to be a luscious Bordeaux or a robust Burgundy, but it is not designed to be as such. Beaujolais Nouveau is frequently described as a light, crisp young wine. The wine is bottled just 6-8 weeks after harvest, in the consumer's glass by the third Thursday in November and as the French say, it must be drunk before la veille du nouvel an--New Year's Eve."

Interested in celebrating the arrival of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau? You have several opportunities around Seattle next week:

The French-American Chamber of Commerce hosts its Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Festival on Friday, November 18 from 7-11 p.m. at the Columbia Tower Club. General admission tickets are $58 in advance, $68 at the door and including extensive buffet with items such as lobster bisque, Hama Hama oysters and mini steak au poivre skewers. Wines include Beaujolais Nouveau from Joseph Drouhin and Georges Duboeuf, plus Cru Beaujolais and other non-Nouveau wines.

On Thursday, November 17 Bastille in Ballard will celebrate the arrival of this year's Beaujolais Nouveau from 4:30-10 p.m. Lechner will have a selection of Beaujolais Nouveau and other Beaujolias wines for $3/taste, $6/glass and $20/carafe. Wines include Jean Foillard Cuvée Corcelette Morgon and Morgon Côte du Py, among others. Food specials include Tete de Cochon (pig head terrine), Pate Lapin (rabbit pate), Foie de Volaille (chicken liver pate), Saucisse en Brioche (sausage baked in brioche), and Pates Chauds-Charcruterie (oxtail baked in short pastry). Reservations recommended at 206-453-5014 or online.

LUC in Madison Park will celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau from Thursday, November 17-Saturday November 19. There will be a $30, three-course menu, and Pierre-Marie Chermette Domaine du Vissoux Beaujolais Nouveau for $12/glass or $40/bottle. Reservations recommended at 206-328-6645 or online.

Le Pichet's Fête de Beaujolais Nouveau is on Thursday November 17 starting at 6 p.m. Le Pichet Wine Director Joanne Herron will have Beaujolais Nouveau and others from the region to try by the glass, pichet or bottle. The menu is a secret until party night but, like in year's past, will focus on street food and house made sausages. Live music provided by Eli Rosenblatt at 7 p.m. and the Djangomatics at 10 p.m. No reservations.

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