Fireworks, music, festivals, and wild publicity events accompany the celebration in France of Beaujolais Nouveau Day, which takes place on the third Thursday in November.
Beaujolais Nouveau is a light bodied, purple-pink fruity wine and the most popular vin de primeur — wine allowed to be sold in the same year in which it was harvested.
The wine’s pale fruity nature is due to the stunted carbonic maceration period followed by a similarly short whole berry anaerobic fermentation, stressing fruit flavors without eliciting acerbic tannins from the grape skins.
Under French law, the wine is released at 12:01 a.m., just weeks after the wine’s grapes have been harvested, and all grapes in the region must be harvested by hand. Parties are held throughout the country to celebrate the first wine of the season.
Beaujolais Nouveau, served slightly chilled, is made from the Gamay Noir à Jus Blanc grape, and is so young that Karen MacNeil, author of “The Wine Bible” amusingly compared drinking Beaujolais Nouveau with eating cookie dough.
The traditional slogan used in ad campaigns is Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé, or The New Beaujolais has arrived, but was changed in 2005 to It’s Beaujolais Nouveau time.
In the United States, Beaujolais Nouveau is marketed as a Thanksgiving wine, with Thanksgiving being a week after the wine is released.
By some estimates, there are about 120 Beaujolais Nouveau related festivals held in the Beaujolais region, with the most notable being Les Sarmentelles, held in the town of Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region.
The five-day festival begins in the early evening the day before Beaujolais Nouveau, and features wine tasting, live music and dancing. Then on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, wine and a range of local foods are offered to visitors.
There is also a tasting contest featuring all of the twelve kinds of Beaujolais, in which the winning prize is a lucky contestant’s weight in Beaujolais-Villages.
In the evening, a torch lit parade takes place in honor of the farmers that made the wine. Fireworks at midnight signal the release of the new wine, which is then toasted until dawn.
Beaujolais Nouveau Day was historically designed as a means for wine merchants to sell large quantities of wine in order to create a cash flow shortly after harvest.
As part of their promotional campaign, vintners sponsored a race to Paris in which participants transported the first bottles of the new vintage.
By the 1970s, the race became a national event, and a decade later the races were held in neighboring European countries, followed by North America, and in the 1990s, Asia.
In America, several vintners produced Nouveau-style wines, using Gamay, Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Pinot Noir grapes, and Riesling. Beringer was California’s largest Nouveau California producer until Nouveau production ceased around ten years ago.
Some also use Beaujolais Nouveau for cooking, as a substitute for other red wines.