The French may not celebrate Thanksgiving, but on the third Thursday of November they find something of their own to be thankful for: wine. To be specific, the yearly vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau, an unpretentious, freshly harvested and frankly fruity red wine that hails from the southern half of the Beaujolais region.
Starting on “Beaujolais Nouveau day” and for a period of weeks after that, people across France celebrate the latest crop by imbibing it– sometimes to excess– in joyful public settings.
In Paris, some wine shops and bars offer free tastings or “dégustations” of the young wine, which is made from Gamay grapes. At other places, you can enjoy inexpensive tastings after midnight on release day.
In addition to wines from the Beaujolais Nouveau appellation (the French term for “origin” and the regulations that surround it), counterparts from Beaujolais Villages Nouveau are also introduced and tasted. Wines are generally accompanied by cheese, charcuterie and other snacks.
But for epicurean travelers willing to stay up past midnight, feting the arrival of the latest vintage is an excellent way to participate in a cherished annual tradition.
You can also stick to just one or two glasses– no one’s keeping count. Keep reading to learn more about the ritual, and where to head in 2021 for tastings in Paris.
Read related: Review of Eating Europe’s Food & Wine Tour of Paris
Oh, and one word of warning: if you’re a wine snob, you may want to abstain. Beaujolais Nouveau and Beaujolais Villages Nouveau are simple and fresh wines that are generally only aged for a few weeks; their direct flavors and low tannins help explain their worldwide popularity.
However, these same qualities tend to disappoint those in search of more complex and challenging wines. They’re also more than a little on the hit-and-miss side: some years, the finished result is very palatable, while other years it’s well, terrible.
But in my sense, that’s all part of the fun: finding out whether the current harvest is any good.
A Bit of History and Context: The Origins of Beaujolais Nouveau Celebrations
The story behind the ritual isn’t especially romantic: in fact, it mostly comes down to administrative and bureaucratic constraints! In 1951, new legislation in France made it mandatory for new wines commercialized under the appellation d’origine controlée label (essentially guaranteeing their authenticity and quality) to be put to market no earlier than December 15th. But wine unions, including ones in the Beaujolais region, protested.
A compromise was reached: if the “Nouveau” label was added to indicate that the wines were young, they could go to market as early as November. It wasn’t until 1985 that the release date was officially set for the third Thursday of November.
But how did the enthusiasm for celebrating the wines’ arrival grow so strong, not only in France but around the world? A vintner named Georges Duboeuf is largely credited for the present-day ritual.
Duboeuf, a producer of Beaujolais Nouveau, reasoned that savvy marketing campaigns would aid in selling large quantities of the new wine, drawing in solid revenue and profits directly following harvest season.
This led to the creation of the well-known slogan Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé! (Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived!), now ubiquitously plastered in bar and wine shop windows around France from the third Thursday of November.
During the 1970s, an annual race celebrating the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau and transporting the first bottles of the new vintage to Paris was another marketing coup, generating significant media buzz. Today, runners can take part in the International Beaujolais Marathon (or in shorter races).
In short, while the tradition is relatively recent, it has become as deeply anchored a ritual as older ones in France.
When is Beaujolais Nouveau Released in 2021?
This year, the young wine will be released from production estates for commercialization on Thursday, November 18th, 2021. On the same day, various bars, restaurants and commercial events around events will fete its arrival.
Read related: Why to Visit the Musée du Vin (Wine Museum) in Paris
In Paris, numerous bars begin serving the new wine just after midnight on Thursday– the occasion for an enjoyable night out, if you can stay up for it.
How and Where to Celebrate: Paris Bars Serving Beaujolais Nouveau in 2021
Most years, you’ll find wine bars around the city offering tastings– some free, but most charging a reasonable amount for a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau or Beaujolais-Villages Nouveau.
Tuck into a cheese or charcuterie platter– sausage is one very traditional accompaniment– and bask in the autumnal festivities.
Many bars serve the wine directly from barrels to amp up the convivial vibe, and it’s also common to see them decorated with haystacks, gourds and pumpkins and other autumnal decor.
The following list of bars serving the new wines was retrieved at Evous.fr. Find the arrondissement (district) you’re staying in and beeline to one or two bars nearby. You can also just walk around after midnight on Thursday the 18th and find a bar feting the occasion with tastings.
The list of bars below isn’t exhaustive– I also recommend consulting this page at the tourist office and this page (in French) at Sortir à Paris for more ideas around where to head on the 18th and the days that follow. Enjoy!
Le Bigo, 37 Rue Berger (75001 Paris) (1st arrondissement)
Le Gavroche, 19 Rue Saint-Marc (75002 Paris) (2nd arrondissement)
Le Mesturet, 77 Rue de Richelieu (75002 Paris) (2nd arrondissement)
La Tartine, 24 Rue de Rivoli (75004 Paris) (4th arrondissement)
Les Pipos, 2 Rue de l’École Polytechnique (75005 Paris) (5th arrondissement)
Au Moulin à Vent, 20 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard (75005 Paris) (5th arrondissement)
Café Comptoir Tournon, 18 Rue de Tournon (75006 Paris)(6th arrondissement)
Les Vieilles Vignes, 149 Rue de l’Université (75007 Paris)(7th arrondissement)
Les Koupoles, 55 Rue des Mathurins (75008 Paris) (8th arrondissement)
Bourgogne Sud, 14 Rue de Clichy (75009 Paris) (9th arrondissement)
Bistrot Paul Bert, 18 Rue Paul Bert (75011 Paris) (11th arrondissement)
Dis Vins Gaulois, 72 Rue Dutot (75015 Paris) (15th arrondissement)
Au Petit Chavignol, 78 Rue de Tocqueville (75017 Paris) (17th arrondissement)
La Mascotte, 52 Rue des Abbesses (75018 Paris) (18th arrondissement)