Hand-pressing wine

Here in France it is traditional to celebrate the arrival of les vins primeurs – the most famous of which is the ‘Beaujolais nouveau‘ – on the third Thursday of November. It seems that this year our attention has been on politics and past terrorist acts rather than festivities around the young wines. There’s been barely a ripple in the news and even in the shops I’ve seen little noise around les vins nouveaux.

To be fair, the French are not crazy about young wines, believing that they give you a headache, and tend to view the whole Beaujolais Nouveau craze as a marketing scheme to attract foreigners. It has certainly been more successful overseas.

I happen to enjoy the young wines of the Beaujolais and the Rhône valley and over the years have been an avid consumer of our local produce.

A few kilometres away from our former hometown in the Monts du Lyonnais was the village of Taluyers. The road to that town had but one attraction for us, but one that kept us coming back regularly for years: Le Domaine de Prapin, a grower of the wine called Coteaux du Lyonnais. The Chardonnay whites were truly magical, the still hand-pressed Gamay reds pleasantly fruity. Best of all, we discovered that you could buy directly from the producer. Our car beat a path to their door on many weekends.

wine-skinWe were delighted to learn that you could buy the wine in bulk, en vrac, in a box container with a vacuum-packed bag inside, to keep the wine from spoiling (chance would be a fine thing), and a handy spout for serving. What the English pragmatically referred to as a bag-in-a-box, they simply called une outre, the term loosely referring to a traditional wine skin.

Not only was it more economical to buy the wine this way, it was a relief to have fewer bottles to dispose of. Glass is recycled in collective containers on street corners in France, and there were times when I was tempted to take out our recycling by cover of night – if it weren’t for the noise. Our empties made a satisfying smash as they landed in the container but it was impossible to get rid of them discreetly. I felt as if I should wear a sign that said ‘I am not an alcoholic, I support the local produce’.

In a comedic quirk of the French language, the word ‘outrer’ means to push to the limits of the acceptable, to the outrageous or outlandish. When we ran out of wine, my husband would joke that we were ‘outrés’ and make a quick run over to Prapin.


Have you enjoyed any of this year’s vins nouveaux? Do you care whether your wine comes from a bottle or a box?

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!

Every year on the third Thursday in November, corks can be heard popping around the world to herald the advent of the newborn baby Beaujolais.

Raise your glasses, mesdames et messieurs, le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!

Ironically, the country where the fewest guests actually show up to the party is France. The whole Beaujolais Nouveau fever has never really caught on here, outside of the Beaujolais wine-growing region itself.

Apparently the party is the biggest in Japan, which gets the most bottles and special permission to start the festivities several hours ahead.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good marketing coup, and Beaujolais Nouveau is a great example. I love the excitement around the opening of the first bottle, which can legally only happen at 12:01 a.m. on B-Day. I like the fun and festivities of ringing in a young, upstart wine that’s served chilled and not to be taken seriously. One of my most sour grapes is wine snobbery.

But the French are resistant to marketing and all things commercial. They are also not fans of young wines in general or Beaujolais in particular. The Gamay grape is too lightweight for the French palate, which shows a marked preference for the fuller-bodied Bordeaux. They tend to prefer a mature wine which has fait ses preuves – or stood the test of time.

And the fact is that Beaujolais is not the only wine to be born on this day. A whole host of vins nouveaux or vins primeurs (young wines) from regions all over France will be released around the same time (not to be confused with the wines en primeur, a whole other deal where buyers invest in wine futures or the nouveaux crus before their value is officially defined).

For the past few years the marketing minds behind Beaujolais Nouveau have been trying to reposition it as a highly fashionable affair going shoulder to shoulder with French haute couture. Personally I believe this is a mistake as it goes against the very grain of the light-hearted nouveaux wines and tries to give it a serious air.

This year marks the first time a Mademoiselle Beaujolais Nouveau has been crowned and will participate in Thursday’s events. Young (21), pretty and wearing a ruby red robe, she will be the personification of Beaujolais Nouveau itself.

Here’s hoping it’s a good year – and if not, a good party. Tchin!