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The ultimate festival of wine

Every year, on the third Thursday of November, something marvellous happens in central eastern France.

Vineyards and village in autumn, Alsace, France

It’s no secret that the French take their wine very seriously, nor that they make some of the world’s best drops. But do you know about the Beaujolais Nouveau Festival, France’s biggest wine party?

Every year on the third Thursday of November, all over the Beaujolais region just north of Lyon, a horde of locals and tourists gather to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau Day. On this day, the season’s new bottles of Beaujolais are put up for sale, or uncorked. The day is marked by parties, music, and fireworks, which sometimes carry on through the weekend.

What is Beaujolais?

Beaujolais is a light, fruity, very young red wine made from handpicked Gamay grapes, and produced all across the region of its namesake. It belongs to the vins primeurs category of wines, which are wines sold in the same year they are harvested, soon after fermentation is complete. Beaujolais Nouveau is generally a mere six weeks old when it is sold, and is said to be best enjoyed chilled.

The wine is popularly enjoyed throughout France and internationally. However, sales have been dropping dramatically over the last few decades, causing some to worry about the future of the festival.

Why is there a festival?

At one minute past midnight, on the Third Thursday of November, over one million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau are sent from towns throughout the Beaujolais region to Paris. From here, they are distributed across the country and across the world. It is actually illegal to release the wine before 12:01 am on the third Thursday of November.

Over the years it has become an international race to be the first to serve the wine in each region, city and country. In the 1960s and 1970s winemakers and savvy marketers saw an opportunity to create hype around the distribution race, and the festival grew from there.

Where are the best places to celebrate?

Beaujolais Nouveau Day is celebrated by expat French communities and wine enthusiasts all over the world. But in France it’s of course best to be in the heart of the action. Each year there are approximately 120 Beaujolais Nouveau related festivals in the region.

The most famous party, Les Sarmentelles, is held in Beaujeu, the regional capital. The infamous wine tasting competition is a sight to behold, with participants sampling all 12 varieties of Beaujolais. The winner earns their body weight in wine. In the evening, a torch-lit parade honours the farmers and workers who made the wine, and then fireworks at midnight herald the release of the bottles. The party goes on until dawn.

In the nearby town of Lyon, just outside the region, the day is celebrated through the Beaujolympiades (Beaujolais Olympics), marking the occasion with music, fireworks, and two days of wine tasting.

And in Paris, many restaurants host Beaujolais Nouveau parties, remaining open through the night after uncorking hundreds of bottles at midnight.

If you’re lucky enough to be in France on the third Thursday of November, no matter where, it’s definitely worth finding out if there is a Beaujolais Nouveau festival or party happening near you.

But be careful with all that celebrating! Drink responsibly, look out for others, and make sure you have great travel insurance.

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