The third Thursday in November is Beaujolais Nouveau Day, when wine lovers rush to taste the year’s Beaujolais Nouveau.

As the name implies, Beaujolais Nouveau is “new”—young, that is—and goes to the bottle not even two months after the crush. Fermentation is so short that the resulting wine exhibits fruity flavors and light tannins. Beaujolais Nouveau is made from handpicked Gamay grapes grown in the Beaujolais region of France, where the beverage accounts for half of the region’s production.

The wine originated about a century ago as a cheap and cheerful drink produced by locals to celebrate the end of the harvest season.

While most red wines improve with age, Beaujolais Nouveau is all about freshness. Beaujolais Nouveau should be consumed by the following May after its release, and is best served slightly cooled.

Under French law, the wine may be released at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of November, just weeks after the wine’s grapes have been harvested.   Nearly half of the wine’s 70-million-bottle production is exported abroad, mainly to Japan, Germany and the United States.

Beaujolais Nouveau is generally cheap—less than 10 dollars—and is available from  Domaine Dupeuble, Jean Foillard and, most famous of all, Georges Duboeuf.

The region of Beaujolais is known for its fabulous food. The famed Paul Bocuse restaurant is just minutes from the heart of Beaujolais, as is Georges Blanc’s. These great restaurants have plenty of Beaujolais Nouveau on their wine lists. The wine goes well with either haute cuisine or Friday night’s pizza.

To understand Beaujolais Nouveau you must look back in history before the First World War when cafés in Lyon would purchase barrels of Beaujolais before fermentation was completed. The wine was purchased straight from the press and the transportation on the rough roads to Lyon stimulated the fermentation which was completed in the cafés’ cellars.

During the 1940s, evacuated Parisian journalists discovered Beaujolais Nouveau in Lyon and on returning to Paris encouraged their own bistros to seek out and serve it.

Following the War a succession of decrees were issued seeking to control the release of quality wines and finally on the 8th September 1951 a decree stipulated that no appellation controlée wine could be released from the cellars until the 15th December (a law which still applies today). 

The growers in Beaujolais immediately sought to obtain a special dispensation, recognizing the special qualities of the Gamay to produce a wine for early consumption. A 1951 decree recognized The Gamay’s special qualities for producing a wine for early consumption.

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