Each year, on the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday of November, the festivities surrounding Beaujolais Nouveau kick off in France.
With a song and a dance and quite often a lot of fireworks, France celebrates the arrival of the first wine of the season. Beaujolais is the southernmost department of the Burgundy region in France. In that area alone, around 120 festivals take place to celebrate the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau.
The town of Beaujeu, the capital of Beaujolais, enjoys a 5 day long festival. Wine tasting (naturellement!), live music, dancing, tastings of local produce and a torchlit parade…. this is what the French do best.
But what is Beaujolais Nouveau? Beaujolais Nouveau is a light, fruity, easy drinking wine. The Gamay grapes are handpicked in September before being subjected to a fermentation of just 6 weeks. This wine is meant to be drunk young and often chilled. Most vintages should be consumed by the May following the harvest. It’s not a wine for the wine snob, that’s for sure!
A wine that has undergone this short fermentation process is called a ‘vin primeur’. Beaujolais nouveau is not the only ‘vin primeur’ produced in France. But due to its high profile marketing and publicity campagn, it has become the best known. You can read 10 interesting facts about Beaujolais Nouveau on this site.
The Beaujolais area is well worth a visit in its own right. If you like your wine you should explore the Beaujolais Wine Route. This is a signposted route which stretches for over 140 kilometres. It runs from Chânes in the north to the outskirts of Greater Lyon in the south.
The free Beaujolais Wine Tourism guidebook and map are available from any local tourist office. The route takes you through picturesque villages with panoramic views across the vineyards.
Almost 140 wine estates or domaines welcome visitors along the Beaujolais Wine Route. These smaller producers will invite you to taste and buy the fruits of their labour. By buying direct you really will get the best value for money and support the local economy into the bargain.
Along the route, look out also for members of the ‘Bistrots Beaujolais’ network. Eat at bistrots such as La Feuillée in the ‘Golden Stones’ village of Theizé. Here you will enjoy traditional regional dishes at an affordable price
If you stay at a B&B in the Beaujolais area of Burgundy you’ll benefit from invaluable local knowledge. B&B owners such as this one in the village of Azé near Macon can recommend the best vineyards to visit and the best wines to buy. Ask them to arrange bike hire so that you can explore the vineyards on the doorstep.
The real wine enthusiast however shouldn’t miss the opportunity to stay on a vineyard estate. This one near Macon produces the most divine Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint Véran, Mâcon Rouge and Vins de Pays de Saône et Loire. Of course you can taste before you buy and learn all about the production process.
The bed and breakfast itself is full of charm befitting its 17th century origins. Make a point of reserving dinner which features local products and is accompanied of course by the Domaine’s own wine.
The Beaujolais area of France is a 6h drive from Calais. Driving really is the only option if you are making the trip to stock up on wine. Just make sure you have enough space in your car and not only for Beaujolais wines. You will pass through the Burgundy vineyards around Dijon and Beaune and also through Champagne en route! Maybe a van would be a good idea?