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On the third Thursday of November, bars and restaurants across France take on a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere with festivals and brass bands toasting to the release of the freshly bottled Beaujolais Nouveau. Even today, while Paris is in the midst of another lockdown, wine shop windows still proudly display posters announcing “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” The new Beaujolais has arrived!
The tradition of selling these “en primeur” wines started nearly a century ago, when casks of the young Gamay were sent south down the Saône River to Lyon, the birthplace of bistros and world capital of gastronomy. Beaujolais Nouveau Day may be timed to coincide with the end of harvest, but it also happens to fall exactly a week before Thanksgiving. “Beaujolais is such a great pairing with autumnal flavors like root vegetables, since the earthy bitterness is juxtaposed with the wine’s freshness,” explains sommelier Victoria James, author of Wine Girl and beverage director at New York City’s Michelin-star Cote Korean steakhouse, where 2018 Lapierre Morgon is being served by the glass from double-magnums on Thanksgiving. “Beaujolais is versatile because it’s low in tannins but chalk-full of flavor, so it goes well with all Thanksgiving food.”
It's said that if wine and food grow in the same place, they're a great match, so it's no surprise Beaujolais and poultry are a perfect pairing considering Bresse, France’s poultry capital, is just a 45-minute drive away. Declared a European protected designation of origin (AOP), Bresse chicken (considered the world's most expensive) has been sourced by everyone from French president Emmanuel Macron for the Elysée Palace to Michelin chefs like Paul Bocuse. You’ll find the prized poulet on practically every menu in the region. “Poultry is well adapted to lighter grape varieties like Gamay, and the Beaujolais we produce here offers the right balance of acidity, fruit and tannins,” says Edouard Parinet, owner and director of Château du Moulin-à-Vent, located in the cru named after Beaujolais’ unofficial symbol: a sole stone windmill.
Over the past 200 years, “king of the Beaujolais Cru” Moulin-à-Vent has garnered a reputation for producing fine wines that age, but few vintners have kept a collection of old bottles. In the 20th century, Beaujolais “turned into a no-go zone,” says Parinet. “The region was vacuumed by Beaujolais Nouveau.”
Gamay, a naturally high-yielding grape, became a cash cow in the 1960s and 70s, when wines were produced quickly on a large, commercial scale and shipped off as Beaujolais Nouveau. But in Moulin-à-Vent, where gamay grows in dry, sandy soils and struggles against wind (thus the reason for the landmark windmill), the yield is lower (the cru is one of the least-producing out of Beaujolais’ 10 villages) and berries are more concentrated, meaning it can easily age 10 or 20 years. “Cru Beaujolais is a great stand-in for the more expensive Pinot Noir from Burgundy, since it has early drinkability, yet can still age, and is flexible with Thanksgiving meals,” says Jennifer Foucher, a sommelier at virtual wine tasting and event company Virtual with Us (and former head sommelier at Michelin-star Fiola DC).
While the lighter Château du Moulin-à-Vent 2016 ($38, rhybrookwines.com) is great with Thanksgiving sides like green beans or mashed potatoes, the fuller, more complex 2015 vintage ($45, chelseawinevault.com) is powerful enough to pair with lamb. “Crafted from old vines, it’s fruity, rich and complex with refreshing acidity and a hint of baking spice to complement the flavor of the turkey and balance the richness of buttery stuffing and potatoes,” says Alexandra Schrecengost, founder and CEO of Virtual with Us, who adds that this style of rustic red wine can serve as a thread that weaves together each of your Thanksgiving dishes so you don’t have to worry about which wine to pair next. “Between selecting bottles to serve with appetizers, and different food cultures adding their own twists, flairs and nuances, choosing wine for the table can seem like an impossible challenge.”
Thanks to soft tannins and bright acidity, Beaujolais can be served with a broad range of foods, and is particularly appealing to those who tend to gravitate toward white wines, says Schrecengost. She recommends placing bottles in the fridge 15 minutes before pouring, so they’re slightly chilled. Then, start the festivities with a cheese plate of Gamay-friendly fresh chèvre or Neufchâtel, double- or triple-cream brie, or sharper Swiss cheeses like Emmental and Gruyère. Keep the Beaujolais flowing with these five pro picks worthy of a place at your Thanksgiving table this year.
Domaine de la Grand'Cour, Clos de la Grand'Cour, Fleurie 2018
“Ripe but fresher in style, the depth and power of the 2018 vintage is balanced with the fruit-forward and juicy characters of the grape,” says Foucher. “Since it’s medium-bodied and not tannic, it pairs beautifully with sides like vegetables, stuffing, potatoes and cranberry sauce.”
To buy: $37, harrisonwinevault.com
Guy Breton, Morgon, Vieilles Vignes 2017
“The 2017 vintage is richer, and has more weight and darker fruit like blackberry and black cherry,” explains Foucher. “Morgon is a cru that produces a fuller-bodied style of Gamay with some fine-grained tannins, so it is more intense and generous. Its bolder flavors makes this the wine for the turkey, lamb or ham.”
To buy: $35, grapeexpectationsonline.com
Jean-Paul Brun, Domaine des Terres Dorées, Beaujolais L'Ancien Vieilles Vignes 2018
“This wine serves as a light, smooth accompaniment to dishes with big flavor, like herbed poultry, maple-roasted squash, and silky sweet potatoes,” says Schrecengost. “Concentrated red fruit notes like dried cherry, juicy cranberry and ripe blackberry pair beautifully at a Thanksgiving table, while the savory earthiness anchors the meal to your palate.”
To buy: $22, sherry-lehmann.com
Domaine de la Prebénde Beaujolais 2017
“This bottle is an absolute steal. Ghislaine Dupeuble’s family has been making wine in the region since the 1500s, and it is rare that one finds so much experience paired with an affordable price point,” says James. “Her Beaujolais is from old vines, which provides more concentration of flavors and can stand up to hearty winter dishes, red meats and roasted game.”
To buy: $15, ryebrookwines.com
Château Thivin, Côte de Brouilly 2018
“This historic estate produces wines loaded with fresh red fruit and refreshing acidity,” says James. “The family is famous for their butter tart—which is made with local butter and to die for—but the freshness of this wine also goes well with Thanksgiving pies—especially more savory ones.”
To buy: $30, apexwinesolutions.com