Tonight, at midnight, the inimitable phenomenon known as Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée. Well, that is not entirely accurate: the bottles of nouveau that 'arrive' on Thursday were on a boat to the U.S. market as early as the 26th of October, when the wine was, arguably, even newer than nouveau itself -- barely deserving of the name, in other words.
Nouveau is a phenomenon like no other in the wine world. Oh, it's common for an Old World region to drink the first wines of the season en primeur, when they're young and fresh and still bearing the blush of harvest. But the tradition was never globalized like it has been in Beaujolais, where in the 1970s negociant Georges Duboeuf saw an opportunity to expand the market for his just-finished wines to the rest of France.
These were thirstily quaffed in Lyon bouchons, then Paris brasseries, spreading to tables the country. For better or worse, Duboeuf's great achievement was to globalize this provincial post-harvest event, and now Beaujolais Nouveau is distributed across the world for the holiday season, with an official release on the third Thursday of November.
In the Beaujolais town of Beaujeu, they celebrate with a party known as Les Sarmentelles, a rowdy, noisy debauch attended by thousands that seemed catered to revive Bacchus himself, with brass bands, magicians, acrobats, vaudeville and circus acts, dance displays, and rather insane amounts of singing and carrying on in funny hats, all served up with the spirited provincialism that seems to keep France forever suspended somewhere between self-importance and utter folly. On the tables was last year's vintage -- admittedly a very good one, a far better vintage than 2012, which I've chronicled before. All of us, of course, had to wait until midnight to taste our first drop.
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As the hour neared, the guests proceeded to the town square, joined by thousands more in procession, many holding torches and huge red helium balloons. There an enormous globe awaited us, above which was poised an equally enormous bottle of faux nouveau. There was a countdown to midnight, and when the magic hour arrived the bottle of faux nouveau was 'uncorked' and, amid laser lights, fireworks, and the thump of bad Euro-pop music, the bottle proceeded to drench the globe with wine.
There was still more singing, more dancing, and bottles of the new vintage were passed around by the hundreds, with merriment into the wee hours, whereupon the entire Saone Valley became encased in a thick, bone-chilling fog -- of course, with nouveau running in our veins, it hardly mattered.
Patrick Comiskey, our drinks columnist, blogs at patrickcomiskey.com and tweets at @patcisco. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.