Stephen Jardine: Roll out the barrel, it’s Beaujolais time

Barrels of Beaujolais Nouveau are rolled by wine-growers in Lyon during this week's launch. Picture: Getty
Barrels of Beaujolais Nouveau are rolled by wine-growers in Lyon during this week's launch. Picture: Getty
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At the end of a week like this, eating and drinking seems like the least of our worries. The outrage in Paris provides plenty of food for thought but little appetite for joy and celebration.

But look closer. Four of the six attacks targeted bars and restaurants and many of those killed were out to dinner or drinking on a café terrace.

The terrorists chose their targets carefully to try to punish an open way of life they despise and fear. That’s a fact that has not been lost on the food and drink community in Paris.

It immediately rallied together online to challenge this assault on the French way of life. Echoing January’s “Je suis Charlie”movement, social media reverberated with the slogan “Je suis en terrase” which encouraged people to continue the way of life these fanatical extremists view as decadent and deserving punishment.

The campaign brings double benefits. It shows the fundamentalists their approach doesn’t work because it won’t change how people live. And it also provides a welcome boost to bar, restaurant and café owners who feared the sombre mood would leave them empty for weeks to come.

By chance, it coincided with what should be a time of special celebration. On Thursday, the Beaujolais Nouveau arrived from the vineyards.

In France the first wine from the new harvest has always been a big thing but in the 1980s a marketing genius decided to turn the race to get the new wine onto the shelves into an event itself. French newspaper Le Figaro called this “the greatest marketing stroke of genius since the Second World War”.

It’s impact has lessened here with sales dropping from 750,000 bottles at the turn of the millennium to just 100,000 in recent years.

However in France it remains a key landmark in the food and drink year. Just as Thanksgiving ushers in the holiday season in America, Beaujolais Nouveau day signals the switch to winter and the start of a period of eating, drinking and making merry.

Over half the wine produced is consumed in France and over 100 related festivals are held in the Beaujolais region alone, never mind the countless others the length and breadth of the nation.

That’s not because it is a great wine - no one would make that bold claim. Made from the Gamay grape, Beaujolais Nouveau is often thin and a bit sour and usually leaves a distinct impression on the palate. Namely, disappointment.

But there is more to it than that. Turkey isn’t the centre of our Christmas feast because it is the most delicious thing we could possibly eat for an annual celebration. Instead, it has it’s place at the table thanks to tradition and the bland part it plays allowing other elements of the meal to shine. Some things just have a time and a place.

It may not be as fashionable here but Beaujolais Nouveau is always special to me. I lived in Paris for 2 years and fondly remember the excitement in the street markets, cafes and restaurants as the first consignment arrived and everyone stopped to taste and agree, yes, it really was as bad as last year.

But with that came a shared moment of conviviality and hospitality that ushered in a season of chestnuts, firesides and twinkling lights. Of time spent with family and friends enjoying the good things in life and celebrating the fact that we’ve made it through another year.

Tragically, at least 129 people no longer have that privilege.

For the rest of us, there can be no better way to defy the terrorists than to carry on the way of life they despise so intently. So this weekend, I will buy a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. Most of it will probably end up in a stew which will gently soften the taste but the simple act of opening the bottle is all that matters.