The following article first ran in 1999, the Wednesday before the release of the Beaujolais nouveau, which always takes place on the third Thursday in November. It was a long time ago! While the festivities in the Beaujolais region still reverberate, they no longer launch the trucks at midnight from the wineries. Thanks to the Internet and a now global market for Beaujolais Nouveau, the cases are all shipped ahead of time so the release can take simultaneously all over the world.
All eyes are turned to a rural region in France tomorrow, to an area that looks similar to the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania except that instead of radiating rows of corn, the hills radiate with grape trellises. The farmers there produce red wine from the Gamay grape — Beaujolais.
Beaujolais is a broad term that includes Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Cru Beaujolais. Wine that is particularly distinctive and highly esteemed is granted a Cru designation, which means that it is from a particular area. The 12 different Cru or regions depend on the “terroir,” or earth, for flavor differences in the wine — Brouilly has a plum-like, sturdy finish; Fleurie, flowery overtones; Moulin-a-Vent, tannin and robust structure. But all are overshadowed this week by the simplest and most widely known variety, the Beaujolais Nouveau.
The third Thursday in November marks the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, the first sampling of the current year’s vintage. It is an event widely heralded across the globe thanks to a marketing ploy that originated toward the end of the 1960s. Banners throughout Paris proclaim the news, “Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!” and many restaurants have special menus that celebrate the simple, country-French foods of the region.
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In 1992, I had the good fortune to travel to the Beaujolais region with fellow Centre Countians for the release. We stayed with a good friend, Nathalie Longefay Fraisse, at her parents’ ivy-covered farmhouse in the village of St. Lager. Nearly all of her family members make wine. At that time, both her father and her uncle made Brouilly, their wineries down the road from each other. Two of her brothers have taken over these operations and continue to do what generations of her family have always done.
One cousin, Jean Tete, helped his father run the Louis Tete winery that produced Beaujolais Nouveau. At a dinner held at the cellar for vineyard workers, fellow winemakers and friends, the new year’s vintage, only two months old, was released with fanfare.
One side of the vaulted cellar held long buffet tables loaded with regional specialties, an array of sausages, pates and cheeses. Salads and breads were arranged around an enormous display of sliced sausage that spelled out “Tete” in mayonnaise rosettes on top. The fresh and fruity nouveau flowed from small barrels set on a large bar into unlabeled bottles and into short, sturdy glasses. A jazz band played lively, New Orleans-style music and couples danced on the earthen floor.
Just before midnight the crowd emptied into the courtyard outside. There, several trucks, plastered with the winery’s label, waited with their motors running and lights blazing. At the stroke of midnight the trucks roared off with a police escort while the crowd cheered thunderously. The Beaujolais nouveau was launched.
Other nouveau events in the Beaujolais region included lots of tastings at the wineries, where the hubbub surrounding the release often gave the local winemakers an opportunity to showcase their lesser known, but better, wines. At one cooperative, a wooden-shoed, costumed man stood in the street flagging down passers-by and inviting them to try the wine that he kept in a barrel at the curb. If this sounds reckless, keep in mind that in France, as in other European countries, there is zero tolerance for drinking and driving — you lose your license at the first offense. There was always a designated driver to transport the increasingly jolly imbibers from one event to another.
The Beaujolais nouveau will arrive in Centre County on Nov. 18 (this year, on the 19th.). Supplies are limited and generally sell out quickly. The wine is light and fruity and is a perfect match for Thanksgiving dinner, marrying well with the herbal savoriness of the feast.
You can always celebrate simply on your own with a bottle of the wine, some French cheeses and sliced, cold sausages or salami and French baguettes. Add a salad with a light French dressing and some perfectly ripe pears for dessert and you will capture the essence of the good life in Beaujolais. Bon Appetit!
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania.” She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink.com and can be reached at chefcorr@gmail .com.
Confiture d’Óignon (French Onion Marmalade)
The following recipe is what my friend Nathalie Fraisse makes every year for her Beaujolais nouveau release party that she now celebrates in Grenoble, where she lives with her husband, Michel, and three children, Eugenie, Pierre-Adrien and Amelie. Her menu is always the same — oven roasted saucisson (fresh pork sausages), boiled potatoes and this onion jam.
2 tablespoons butter
2 pounds yellow onions, peeled, quartered and sliced thinly by hand
1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper
1 cup raw or brown sugar
2 apples (yellow delicious, gala or other firm apple) peeled, quartered and cubed or grated
1 and 2/3 cups raisins, golden or dark or a mix
2 cups Beaujolais wine
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Grenadine
Melt the butter in a heavy pot over low heat and add the onions, salt, pepper and sugar and cook, covered, for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Add the apples, raisins and the three liquids. Cook, uncovered, until the mixture is thick and syrupy. Serve warm.