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Musings by Leah Jorgensen

Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Tradition – Oui Oui!

Beaujolais Nouveau is a tradition.  And, traditionally, it is released and celebrated annually on the third Thursday in November.  I was first introduced to Beaujolais Nouveau wines and the French themed parties when I first sold it in Washington, DC, back in 2000.  Then, I was working for a small wine chain called Best Cellars at the Dupont Circle location.  We sold a few boutique brands, as well as the usual suspects – Bouchard-Aine & Fils and Georges Duboeuf.

Later, I worked for a wholesaler in DC and got to pour at the French Embassy each year – the biggest Beaujolais Nouveau tradition in town.  I poured the Bouchard, Duboeuf and Joseph Drouhin selections.

Beaujolais is an interesting wine.  For some, it’s likened to a sweet, juicy wine and an excuse for a party.  But, there are nuances and subtleties to the wine that make it an excellent food wine, and a fun one at that.  It is often served on American tables at Thanksgiving.  It is a fantastic aperitif.  And, it is a great conversational wine.  It’s lively and opens any fall or winter party quite well.

For some, it’s just about the party.  I have had the priviledge to work the best party at the French Embassy.  Barrels of the Nouveau get shipped in, as well as cases.  It is le festival de l’annee!

Since I’ve moved to Portland, Oregon, I no longer sell Beaujolais.  The closest I got to it was a Gamay Noir wine  produced at Adelsheim Vineyard, a wine that is actually quite elegant and complex, thanks to the gentle and thoughtful winemaking of Dave Paige. 

Gamay Noir is the principal varietal grown in Beaujolais, France – the historical province located north of Lyon, covering parts of the north of the Rhone-Alpes region, and parts of the south of the Saone-et-Loire of Burgundy.  Beaujolais is often considered a hub of Burgundy, but the climate is more reminiscent of the Rhone, with wines unique enough to be considered completely separate.  The region is known internationally for its long tradition of winemaking, uniquely emphasized by the use of carbonic maceration, or whole cluster fermentation.

There are only a few plantings of Gamay Noir in Oregon, and most of it gets blended into Pinot Noir.   A handful of Oregon wineries produce Gamay Noir, including  Amity Vineyards, who makes an interesting Gamay Noir Eco-Wine, which is organic.  Chehalem produced Cherise, a dark, lush Gamay Noir.  WillaKenzie, Brick House and Evening Lands also produce Gamay Noir wines.

Some of these wines, alongside the traditional French Nouveau, will be poured tonight at the Heathman Hotel for their Eighth Annual Beaujolais Nouveau Festival.  There are five wine-pouring stations, a wine auction, and impressive food stations presented by James Beard award-winning chef Philippe Boulot, and the Beaujolais Nouveau wine jetted in from France just yesterday!

I have been to the past three fêtes, and I certainly won’t miss it this year.  It has become my Beaujolais tradition.  My friends rally each year to take in the amazing food, fruity wine and good company hosted by the French-American Chamber of Commerce and co-organized with the Alliance Française of Portland.  Tickets are available at afportland.org.  The event begins at 6:00 p.m.  Â bientôt!

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