Beaujolais Nouveau and Les Sarmentelles
Beaujolais Nouveau is a very young red wine, only 6 to 8 weeks old, made from the Gamay grapes and grown in the Beajolais region of France. While most red wines are left to improve with age, Beaujolais Nouveau is all about the freshness. In fact, many producers race to deliver the first of the vintage to celebrations throughout France and many other countries besides.
The fermentation is so short that the resulting wine has fruity flavours and light tannins. The grapes are pressed after only 3 days of fermentation meaning that the wine has a different make-up to most red wines. The Beaujolais Nouveau wine is produced using the process of carbonic maceration or whole berry fermentation, preserving the fresh, fruity quality. The wine should be consumed at least within the first year of being produced and is best served cool.
The Beaujolais Nouveau is only released at the stroke of midnight on the 3rd Thursday every November, just weeks after the wine's grapes have been harvested. Known as "Beaujolais Nouveau Day", parties are held to celebrate the first wine of the season. There are over 120 related festivals held every year in the Beaujolais region alone.
The most famous is Les Sarmentelles, held in the town of Beaujeu, the capital of the Beaujolais region. Sarmentelles is taken from the French word for cuttings from the canes of grapevines (sarments) which are burned in the centre of the town. The 5 day festival features wine tasting, live music and dancing. It starts in the evening of the day before the Beaujolais Nouveau with a tasting contest featuring all 12 types of Beaujolais, in which the winner wins their weight in Beaujolais-Villages. A torch lit parade through the town honours the wine producers and fireworks at midnight mark the release of the new wine.
The tradition of the Beaujolais Nouveau began in 1951 and in 1967 an official release date was fixed. Since 1988 Beaujeu has held Les Sarmentelles and since 2002 it has become a 5 day festival covered by the national and international media and television. 2012 marked the 24th year of celebrations in Beaujeu.
Other places in France celebrate just as enthusiastically. Lyon hosts the Beaujolympiades with music and fireworks followed by 2 days of sampling. In Paris, restaurants and bistros host Beaujolais Nouveau parties staying open throughout the night.