Every year on the third Thursday of November, the word on the street in France and worldwide is the same: “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” — or “the Beaujolais Nouveau is here!”
Beaujolais Nouveau, the first wine of the harvest for the year, is light red wine made from the handpicked Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France, which also produces Beaujolais-Village red wine.
Considered a vin oridnaire, or local wine, which could only be sold after Dec. 15 by law, it gained popularity after the end of World War II, when the rules were relaxed on Nov. 13, 1951, and the Union Interprofessionnelle des Vins du Beaujolais (UIVB) formally set Nov. 15 as the release date for what would become known as Beaujolais Nouveau.
Later, the date was relaxed further to be the third Thursday in November once the wine started to be imported to North America and Asia. To take marketing advantage of Thanksgiving and the following holiday festivities through Christmas and New Year’s, Beaujolais Nouveau’s release has become an event unto itself.
Beaujolais Day has spawned several publicity events and heavy advertising, particularly by Georges Dubouef, the major producer and importer of the wine.
The French-American Chamber of Commerce has hosted a Beaujolais Day celebration at the Maison Française (French Embassy) on Reservoir Road in the District for many years.
“It’s a very French event,” said Denis Chazelle, executive director of the French-American Chamber of Commerce’s D.C. chapter. “It’s festive and fun, there is good food, good music, and good wine. We do it for the community of expatriates and Francophiles who love coming to the French Embassy for such events.”
At this year’s event, actually held the next day on Friday, the embassy was the venue for French food vendors to promote their goods: Boulangerie Christophe serving pastries, Maison Kayser for bread and D’Artagnan providing traditional French pâté.
The event was co-sponsored by Alliance Française with assistance from Stratford University which provided the kitchen personnel for the evening. Students spent the evening ladling up rich Boeuf Bourginon (beef stew enhanced with Burgundy wine) over rice for a hearty accompaniment to the plentiful wine.
Wines were provided by Georges Dubouef, which this year unveiled a Beaujolais Nouveau Rosé, capitalizing on the newfound love of the wine among the general public.
“[Beaujolais Day] has been celebrated worldwide since the early 2000s, and the Chamber has done it for at least the last 20 years,” Chazelle said.
In the United States, it is promoted as a drink for Thanksgiving, since its light nature makes it easy to drink and it combines well with any food, even poultry.
Several of the vintners, as many wine producers are referred to, release the new wine with colorful artistic abstract design labels that change every year, usually as an evolution from the previous year’s design, making the bottles somewhat of a collector’s item.
Georges Dubouef creates silk ties each year with their label’s abstract design, releasing them through major wholesalers and distributors.
In several Asian countries, serving the Nouveau on the third Thursday in November is seen as a status symbol and a luxury item. So much emphasis is put on this date that many air shipping companies post online articles about how to arrange the shipments starting in late October.