The Beaujolais Nouveau of the Century

photo: beaujolais nouveau, at cave peret

Rain, sleet; get it while it lasts.

As Usual, Aroma Like a Fruitcake

Paris:- Thursday, 18. November 1999:- This morning the gutters of Paris are not running over with Beaujolais Nouveau, but are filled with freezing rainwater. It is a great day for sunshine wine.

At my neighborhood café, Le Bouquet, the Beaujolais Nouveau barrel is on the bar top. But at 8:15, the small number of customers seem to prefer cafe. The patron says nobody has tried the new wine yet.

Determined rain is almost sleet in the Rue Daguerre, which is a pedestrian food and drink street just southphoto: sign beaujolais nouveau est arrive of Montparnasse. The Nicolas wine shop has a beaujolais window display, but doesn't open until nine.

A few doors further on, at Cave Péret, the patron is constructing pyramids of Beaujolais Nouveau bottles, while the butcher next door and the cheese shop across the way get ready for the day's business.

It is damp and bitterly cold as these merchants set out their wares, and as pedestrians hurry to the métro entrance on the Avenue du Général Leclerc. With almost freezing temperatures and the rain, it is a November winter morning - a 'bit below normal' as radio France-Info would say if it weren't on strike.

The two cafés near the métro entrance both have either signs or 'Beaujolais Nouveau' painted on their windows; butphoto: pyramid of bottles, peret these are also peopled with workers tanking up on cafe before getting warm in the métro on the way the work.

Outside the Monoprix supermarket, cases of Beaujolais are being stacked up outside, next to a Coca-Cola vending machine.

I've passed four cafés and seen nobody drinking anything except cafe, so I buy today's Le Parisien and head back to Le Bouquet for an injection of express-cafe for myself.

The Cave Péret's pyramid of Beaujolais Nouveau.

It is only 30 minutes later, but customers are now elbow to elbow at the bar and several tables are full too. The one customer who I see taking a wine, takes his usual sort of Côtes du Rhône.

I tap the bottom of the Beaujolais Nouveau barrel and it sounds hollow; the sides sound full though. My cafe is saving my life.

Le Parisien must have been printed late, or they have 'forwarded' their story a bit. Cafés and bars that were open at 00:01 today popped the corks of the 1999 Beaujolais Nouveau and tried it out for the paper.

The popular Paris paper usually does this at Chez Serge in Saint-Ouen - possibly because the editorial offices are nearby. Also as usual, the first report says the new wine is a 'frank success' with the first swallow.

It is also 'soft,' with 'fruity' aromas. Some even say they can detect the taste of blackberries, strawberriesphoto: wine cases and coke vendor or black currants - or all three; which is pretty usual too - first reports about Beaujolais Nouveau are invariably positive.

Le Parisien has a tame expect as well. His verdict is that the 1999 vintage is less 'new' than usual, and more like a 'wine.' Its aroma 'flowers' and it has its impression of a 'fruitbasket.' This is probably more accurate than narrowing it down to blackberries.

On 18. November, Beaujolais Nouveau is only delivered after midnight.

Last year, in less than a week, 62 million bottles were sold with about half of them being exported. Germany, Japan and the United States take the largest consignments. An up-market winedealer in Paris got rid of 24,000 bottles in three days.

It's an exceedingly small wonder everybody has something good to say about it. Le Parisien's man-on-the-street blitz interviews, made with wine from George Duboeuf's in the 8th arrondissement, produced the usual reactions.

'It smells good. Like blackberries or strawberries.' A lady's opinion was that it is 'not too bad.' Another man confirmed the fruitiness, without identifying the fruits. One found it 'perfect for tonight's party.' Finally, another said it is 'better than last year's.'

Those not planning a little party this evening, intend to buy a couple of bottles to go with dinner at home tonight. This is usual too.

Every year on Beaujolais Nouveau day in France, everybody tries it and everybody buys a bottle or two. If only half the residents of France do this - et voilà - that accounts for 30 million sold bottles of young, fruity wine.

And this year, of course, the wine involved is the last Beaujolais Nouveau of the century, of the millennium. Too bad it won't keep.

Beaujolais Nouveau At Noon

My noon tour of the Beaujolais Nouveau hotspots in the quarter reveals weak daylight and the price of this year's nectar at the café Le Bouquet. It is a round figure - 100 francs a litre, which makes it 25 francs for the lunch-time standard quarter-litre 'pichet' or little pot.

In the Nicolas shop, which has a little bar set up for free tasting - with cheese and hard sausage, the patron says a dozen cases have gone since opening.

Across from my café, the bistro 'Au Vin des Rues' has a take-it-or-leave-it fixed-pricephoto: tasting beaujolais, at nicolas midday menu. Patron Jean Chanrion expects two to 300 guests - to fit in a restaurant with about 35 chairs - so today there is no choice.

Free tastes and cheese at Nicolas.

The entrée is grilled escargots with pork, the 'plat' is more country-style pork, there's another 'plat,' plus cheese, desert, café and chocolate, and all the Beaujolais Nouveau you can hold. One price - 200 francs - which is about 32 US dollars.

Except for getting lighter, the weather is the same as earlier, which is cold and damp. At 'Au Vin des Rues' the terrace is screened with plastic sheeting and the outside heaters are on without great effect.

After the lunch orgy is over, steady 'tasting' begins - mainly with standing room only - which may last as long as the rest of this Beaujolais Nouveau day, 1999.

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