City Breaks

Getting ready for Beaujolais nouveau day

On the third Thursday in November, wine-lovers around the world will rejoice at the release of this year’s Beaujolais nouveau.

For millions of Americans and Canadians, the most important Thursday of the year is Thanksgiving, which is traditionally celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November. However, for wine buffs worldwide the Thursday before is far more interesting. The third Thursday in November marks the release of this year's Beaujolais nouveau, an incredibly popular and easy-drinking red wine with an exciting culture all of its own.

Although Beaujolais nouveau day is celebrated in many countries, you really need to go to the source for the full effect. Every town and village in the Beaujolais region erupts with festivities at one minute past midnight, the very earliest moment at which the wine can be legally sold. In this blog, I want to introduce you to some of the traditions that have grown up around Beaujolais nouveau and why it makes such a great centrepiece to a holiday or minibreak.

Beaujolais is covered with carefully tended vineyards
Beaujolais is covered with carefully tended vineyards

Making Beaujolais nouveau

Beaujolais nouveau is a vin de primeur - that is, a wine that is released for sale the same year that the grapes are harvested. By working at breakneck speed and using an especially delicate fermentation technique, Beaujolais' vintners are able to produce a fresh, uncomplicated red wine just weeks after the grapes are picked. The grape used for Beaujolais is Gamay, which my old man always said was the best grape for 'quaffing wine'. He wasn't wrong - the sweet fruitiness of Beaujolais makes it better suited to gulps than sips, and it's so light that it tastes beautiful chilled. You may not be in the mood for cold wine now that the weather's taken a turn, but if you can keep hold of some until next year you can enjoy it in the first flush of summer. Beware, though - it's a rare Beaujolais nouveau that will make it to one year old without turning to vinegar. Like all the best pleasures, this is a fleeting one.

Beaujolais nouveau has a glossy, purplish colour
Beaujolais nouveau has a glossy, purplish colour

Experience Beaujolais nouveau day

The capital of Beaujolais celebrations is also the capital of Beaujolais itself. The town of Beaujeu hosts Les Sarmentelles, a five-day festival that's a must for wine fans with serious stamina. This year, the events leading up to Beaujolais nouveau day include a dinner show and a tasting contest (with a 'Win your weight in wine' prize that's making me want to raid the fridge to bulk up!), before the spectacular midnight celebration that sees Beaujolais begin to flow to all four corners of the world. In years past, the swift transportation of the young wine has inspired fierce competition, with bottles travelling by plane, boat, motorbike and even elephant in an effort to bring Beaujolais nouveau to everyone who wants a taste. More than 100 other festivals are dotted across the region - Lyon's Beauj'olympiades is one of the biggest, whilst the town of Villefrance focuses on music alongside the wine. This year I'll be going to Salles-en-Beaujolais for the annual hike to a number of local cellars.

If you're a wine lover, looking to take part in the Beaujolais Run or simply enjoy experiencing traditional festivities, being in Beaujolais for the release of the new wine is something you must try at least once. And happily, with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle trains running up to four times and hour, 24/7 it's only a short hop to Beaujolais country! Beaujeu is a six hour drive from Calais, which is just 35 minutes from the UK by Eurotunnel Le Shuttle - and if you take your car, there's no limit to how much wine you can bring back!