Today is Nov. 15, the third Thursday in November, and we all know what happens on the third Thursday each November, right? Of course! Le Beaujolais Nouveau arrivé! The New Beaujolais arrives!
Beaujolais – described most simply – is a fruity red wine from the Beaujolais province in the Burgundy region of France, north of Lyon. Beaujolais variations are produced, but generally it is a red wine considered by many to be not only fruity but excitingly fresh, fun and flavorful. Beaujolais Nouveau – produced from the Gamay grape, as is most all of Beaujolais wine – is not allowed to age, but is bottled right after fermentation and should be consumed within the first few months after that.
Real connoisseurs of wine – to be more precise, I'm talking about wine snobs here – might scoff at the notion of getting excited about a red wine that has been fermenting for only six weeks. Frankly, my dear snobs, I don't care what you think. Cork it. I don't wanna hear it.
My first taste of Beaujolais came about neither in France nor the United States. I first tried it in Vietnam. That first glass was poured from the tap of a small cask of Beaujolais fresh from France. It was 1969 in Saigon, at a little French restaurant not far from the residence of Ellsworth Bunker, our ambassador to South Vietnam. That was some good wine; at least it tasted good to me, but I was young, and what did I know about wine? Nothing. Not that I've learned so much since then. I know one important thing. If a wine tastes good to me, it's a good wine.
I consumed that Beaujolais with my very first bowl of bouillabaisse, the famous French fish stew or soup. I savored both the wine and the meal. During my time in Saigon, where the Marine Corps had assigned me to the U.S. Embassy, I enjoyed the grub at three French restaurants. So, imagine my surprise when the Corps transferred me to our embassy in Paris. Chow time! I'd be able to enjoy real French food all the time and taste the first and freshest Beaujolais come each November.
Paris is the people-watching capital of the world. Along with many Parisians and foreign tourists, I often enjoyed the sidewalk views while I ate lunch or sipped wine or coffee at a table outside one of the many terrace cafés when I lived in the City of Light. Most of those little establishments were what we called tabac cafés, or just tabacs, because they offered tobacco products, drinks, eats and more. Tabacs can be found along many streets and on many street corners in Paris. I know; I'm rambling. Memories of Paris can do that to you. I was trying to get to the fact that all of the tabacs – all of those sidewalk cafés that always served delicious coffees and heavenly croque monsieurs – in November became the purveyors of Beaujolais Nouveau. A small cask of Beaujolais sat on the bar or on the counter behind the bar in each tabac.
Each Nov. 15, at barely a minute after the midnight hour, many such casks and thousands of bottles of the new Beaujolais are transported all over France, where the French greet the red goodness with great fanfare. Much of the wine also heads for points beyond France.
I was told that the Beaujolais that made it to the United States and other lands was not the good or real Beaujolais. The French kept the good stuff to themselves, I was told back in the good old days. Some of my French friends would say, Griggs, use your head, silly boy; France could not possibly produce enough Beaujolais to supply the whole world. Ça va pas la tête, non? And they taught me that one must drink the Beaujolais when it is fresh and fruity, before it becomes old and crappy.
I guess none of that matters today. Here in Lebanon, Ill., there is neither a French tabac café nor a wine shop with a case of Beaujolais Nouveau flown in overnight from Lyon, France.
So, anyone care for a nice Oregon Pinot Noir? Go get the corkscrew, while I get a bottle from the rack. I know it's only noon, but it's Nov. 15. We'll spike it with a little sweet cherry juice and pretend it's Beaujolais. Cheers, mon amis.