In the States, all attention goes to the last Thursday of November, but in Beaujolais, France, in the very southern part of Burgundy, all anyone cares about is the third Thursday of November. On this day, winemakers release their Beaujolais nouveau, the fresh and ebullient just-bottled wines made as quickly as possible from the gamay grapes that were picked a couple of months before—and a nationwide shindig ensues.
These wines are not think pieces. They’re inexpensive light-hearted fruit cups—just the sort of wine you’d want to drink at a street party. They’re meant to be chugged, bottle-to-mouth, with friends, music, cheese, snails and poulet de Bresse.
Truly, who wouldn’t get behind tossing a few back in the name of brand-new wine and the end of the harvest? That this auspicious day hasn’t caught on like wildfire around the world is concerning, and it’s due to one particular class of people: wine snobs. Thanks to the ocean of silly juice bomb bottles from the largest producer in the region that wash up on our shores at this time every year, American wine folk have long abstained from joining in the celebration, leery that it’s nothing more than a silly marketing gimmick. And really, who cares?
In truth, many Beaujolais producers make a nouveau. The wine just tends to not make it out of France. But in recent years, some great winemakers, including Domaine Dupeuble and Jean Foillard, have sent some our way, upping the Beaujolais nouveau potential here.
For those who still can’t embrace this fun-loving wine, there’s all the other Beaujolais to embrace. The region is made up of 10 crus, or subregions, each of which produces seriously beautiful and traditionally made wines that are undeniably food friendly, thoughtfully made (over the course of a year) and worth festivities of their own. Wonderfully, sommeliers around the U.S. are embracing these bottles, giving them prominence on wine lists so they can be feted every day.
Check out these eight places to drink Beaujolais around the country, whether on Beaujolais Nouveau Day (November 17) or the rest of the year.
June’s is the sort of place where it’s completely acceptable to show up at the bar and have a burger with a bottle of Champagne on a Tuesday. Led by Master Sommelier June Rodil, the all-day café is unabashedly a wine-loving place. This year, Rodil joins forces with three of Austin’s top sommeliers—Devon Broglie, Craig Collins and Mark Sayre—for Beaujolais eve.
The festivities start at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, November 16, and carry on into Beaujolais Nouveau Day on the 17th. For the serious wine constituency, the evening starts with a focused tasting of all 10 crus at June’s, with some French snacks. And at 11 p.m., the party migrates across the river to Irene’s to ring in Beaujolais Nouveau at midnight with cases of nouveau, a DJ and a dance party. Book tickets ($50 for the evening) at junes.tocktix.com or just stop by Irene’s after 11 p.m. for a $5 glass of nouveau.
On Eduardo Porto Carreiro’s autumn wine list (he changes it seasonally) at Untitled at the Whitney Museum, cru Beaujolais is featured front and center not only because he’s partial to the wines but because they pair particularly well with the vegetable-driven menu from chef Michael Anthony. He focuses on wines from both up-and-comers and OG rockstars of the region, like Marcel Lapierre and Jean Foillard.
A more recent discovery he’s made are the wines from Yann Bertrand. “They have been a fantastic addition to the landscape of cru Beaujolais in this market. His wines showcase a deep purity and silken palate feel that only comes from a very deft hand in the cellar and great farming of old vines.”
The stunning year-old Branch Line places rotisserie cooking at the center of its kitchen, the star of which is its golden roasted chicken. It just so happens that its wine list has an entire section of Rotisserie Reds, all of which are Beaujolais. Included in this list are bottles of Jean Foillard’s Fleurie, from the 2007 vintage.
Access to older bottles of Beaujolais can be tricky, but Charlie Gaeta, Branch Line’s wine director, says that it’s drinking exceptionally well. “It’s retained all that pure red fruit and unmistakable floral element typical of Fleurie while also showcasing its herbaceous depth and a remarkable silky texture that feels like it lasts forever,” he says. “It goes to show that a wine like Beaujolais doesn’t need massive tannins, alcohol or oak to be able to have the structure to age.”
When Sean Brock opened his new tasting-menu-only version of McCrady’s a month ago, it came with an impressive wine list from sommelier Cappie Peete, which included a large selection of Beaujolais from all 10 crus in the region. “I think Beaujolais is great with McCrady’s food because the flavors of the dishes are so complex and most Beaujolais is delicate enough to not overwhelm that,” he says. “It plays the perfect supporting role.”
The Beauj list changes constantly as Peete gets obsessed with one cru over the other. Right now, that cru is Fleurie. She’s currently pouring bottles from Dutraive, Clos de la Roilette and Yann Bertrand. “The somm team always says that when I pour a flight of blind wine for them and pour Beaujolais, I am a dead giveaway because I smile when I first stick my nose in the glass. For lack of a better word, it’s the happiest-smelling wine and always leads to a good time whether it’s with a meal or by itself.”
There are plenty of expectedly deep sections of Dan Davis’ wine list at old-school Commander’s Palace—Burgundy, California cabernet—but the greatest part of his list is that he stocks tons of wines in large-format bottles, magnums, three-liters and even nine-liter Salmanazars. His fantastic Beaujolais selection offers big bottles (including multiple vintages from all-star producers), too, and might be the most affordable part of the list.
“We are so very fortunate to be a restaurant of choice for celebrations, business meetings and family gatherings. Nothing makes a big table look better than a bunch of smiling faces and a big bottle of wine (or three),” says Davis. “Also, something magical happens when wines age in large-format bottles.They are just plain better.”
Bar Avignon owners Randy Goodman and Nancy Hunt have been devoting their Southeast Portland restaurant to the French culinary joie de vivre for more than eight years. Celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau every year is absolutely a part of this. Goodman, who runs the wine side of things, always has a nice selection of Beaujolais but usually amps it up this time of year.
On November 17, he’ll be pouring three nouveaus, including one from France and two from Portland wineries Division Wine Co. and Bow & Arrow. There has been a building interest among Oregon producers in the gamay grape, because it grows extraordinarily well in a couple of regions in the state. Inspired by the producers in the grape’s native homeland, they, too, are making nouveaus. To accompany all of the wine will be chef Lucian Prellwitz’s cassoulet, frisson with lardons and a Beaujolais-poached egg, and live French accordion music.
This spring, chef Brandon Jew boldly opened his modern, local take on Chinese food, Mister Jiu’s, right in the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown. To go with this boundary-pushing cuisine, wine director John Herbstritt has compiled an impressive list of wines from around the world.
“One of Brandon’s goals in the kitchen has been to make delicious Chinese food with impeccable ingredient sourcing,” says Herbstritt. “I wanted the wine list to mirror his vision. Beaujolais really is the cradle of the modern natural wine movement and differentiating the ‘real’ wine made there from the supermarket plonk for guests is a really great teaching moment.” The deep umami flavors of Jew’s food pair remarkably well with Beaujolais’ light-to-medium-bodied, fruit-forward wines.
Strangely enough, Seattle has become a little bit of a second home for Beaujolais. The city is a veritable mecca for lovers of these wines. A devoted number of restaurants, including Le Caviste (which always offers all 10 crus and two Beaujolais by the glass), Le Pichet (which arguably throws the greatest Beaujolais Nouveau party in the States) and Bastille (where there’s nearly an equal amount of Oregon gamay and Beaujolais on offer, especially for Beaujolais nouveau.) all stock an astounding number of producers and vintages.
When Freek’s Mill opened last spring, it was immediately apparent that whoever was behind the wine list there had a very strong point of view. That person is Alex Alan. Ninety percent of his list is composed of a 50/50 split of cru Beaujolais and chenin blanc from the Loire Valley. Alan has pulled together what is certainly the most complete and impressive list of Beaujolais in the country. “Beaujolais is my spirit animal,” he says. “It’s a wine that has so much life and joy that’s both humble and elegant. It’s an unexpected source of delicious wine and is the underdog on most wine lists.”
He believes there’s a cru Beaujolais befitting any situation. Happy drinking wine? Have Brouilly. Need something to go with steak? Order structured Moulin-à-Vent. Looking for a bottle when everyone at the table wants a different genre of food? Morgon is just the thing. “It wins every time,” says Alan. “It has something that everyone can love. Some polish, some earthiness, some fruit, some structure. It’s curvy and generous with flavor. It’s how people (including me) first get hooked on Beaujolais.”