Beaujolais nouveau : A culture in wine tasting
- Sophia Smith and Neil Foon at the French Ambassador’s residence during Beaujolais Nouveau night on November 20; Picture: Isabelle Meslet-Dina
Suva, December 07 2008 (By Geraldine Panapasa, Fiji Times) - It’s a culture many find interesting not only because of it’s infamous structures like the Eiffel Tower, Cathedral of Notre-Dame and Place de la Concorde to name a few, but of the kind of rare art, music, food and wine entwined in French traditions.
On November 20, a few invited guests gathered at the French ambassador’s residence to mark the arrival of the Beaujolais Nouveau.
Believe me, I was confused about what the event meant but when I was provided a brief history about this special wine by holistic practitioner and creative consultant Isabelle Meslet-Dina, I was forced to reignite my interest in this ancient European culture.
While I missed the opportunity to taste this rather unique wine - still touring Rotuma and finding my roots - I was intrigued by the fact that the Beaujolais Nouveau is a wine released in the same year of its harvest.
It’s a wine made from Gamay grapes and grown in the Beaujolais area in France which is south of the great wine region of Burgundy.
In 1938, regulations were put in place to restrict the free-flowing wine. In 1951, these regulations were revoked by the region’s governing body and the Beaujolais Nouveau was officially reconised.
The official date for release was set for November 15.
Until 1985, the date was changed to the third Thursday of November simply because people tend to party on weekends and Thursdays tied in well with the weekend making the festivity complete.
To mark the auspicious event, a small gathering of locals and French diplomats at the Ambassador Michel Monnier’s residence was held to honour the French tradition.
As Beaujolais Nouveau trickled down wine glasses, guests mingled, joked and enjoyed the company of friends and colleagues.
And even though the event was low key, it brought French culture and traditions a step closer to Fiji.
The plus side to celebrating such an event is people don’t have to be French to celebrate Beaujolais Nouveau.
In fact, the French ambassador himself Mr Monnier was born in Vietnam and while his Asian cultural origins are still intact, his posting to Fiji as the diplomatic representative of the French government is an indirect notion of fostering multiculturalism - I stand corrected though.
But for most locals in Fiji, sipping on a chilled glass of wine is an opportunity that comes rarely.
And when that opportunity comes, people savour the taste and take their time relishing that first glass.
Distributed by Victoria Wines, the Beaujolais Nouveau has a distinctive taste every year.
"The release of Beaujolais Nouveau each year on the third Thursday of November marks the start of a new French wine vintage and is therefore a cause for great celebration," said Liam Hindle, managing director of Victoria Wines.
"Gamay grapes are amenable to a very rapid method of fermentation which allows this wine to be the first wine ready for bottling and marketplace every year.
"The word Nouveau means new and distinguishes the latest crop from earlier vintages.
"France is the centre of wine-making and wine culture. Almost all the great wine varieties have their origins in France and the greatest examples of those varieties are also to be found in France.
"Although Beaujolais Nouveau is not itself a great wine, being more of a light, fun wine but it is a great symbol of each new vintage."
Mr Hindle said the celebration of Beaujolais Nouveau with the French Embassy started eight years ago on the third Thursday of November.
Wine from Beaujolais is flown to Fiji a week before the celebration by Victoria Wines with strict guarantees that it will not be opened or consumed before the third Thursday.
Mr Hindle said celebrations in almost every country worldwide begin simultaneously on the day.
"With Fiji being 12 hours ahead of Europe, we are one of the first places in the world to celebrate this every year," he said.
"The Embassy and Victoria Wines each invited a range of people and including invited members of the hotel industry and members of our wine club.
"I feel it is like a harvest festival, a time to celebrate each year the cycle of nature and the start of a new vintage.
"Victoria Wines are the only distributors to bring in Beaujolais Nouveau and because of the high air-freight costs, it is very expensive but we use it as a promotional event and sell the wine at cost which is about $25 a bottle."
While he agreed the event allowed everyone to celebrate a unique French event, Mr Hindle said the event will be held every year.
Mr Hindle added Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun wine that is light and refreshing with flavours of black cherries or strawberries.
He said unlike most red wines, Beaujolais Nouveau can be served chilled.