French toasts

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On one day every year, a group of people hold a feast of food, wine and song to recognize a successful harvest. Sound like a certain national holiday dating back to the pilgrims? It's not.

It's a French holiday celebrating a successful wine harvest, and it's gaining popularity in the United States.

Beaujolais Day marks the official on-sale date of Beaujolais Nouveau, a wine offering the first taste of the year's Gamay grapes, which are used to make Beaujolais wine. The grapes are pressed briefly and get very little filtering before the bottles are shipped around the country with strict instructions that they not be opened until the third Thursday of November.

Gigi Wielezynski and her husband, Stan, brought the tradition with them from France when they opened Le Chatelaine in 1991, launching an annual evening celebration soon after.

The third Thursday of November might be the magic date, but the flavors and quality of each year's Nouveau are always a mystery. That's what gets people excited about it, said Gigi, who added that it's reliably a "light, happy wine."

"When you drink from a bottle that shape," she said, tracing the sloping neck of a Beaujolais Nouveau bottle from 2006, "you know you're going to have a good time."

It's a great bottle to take to Thanksgiving, as it pairs will with both light and dark meats, herbs and other traditional flavors. But because of the abbreviated fermenting and filtering process, it should be enjoyed within the first few months of purchase, she added.

Beaujolais tends to be a light-bodied red with high levels of acidity.

Any Beaujolais vineyard can produce Beaujolais Nouveau. Le Chatelaine orders from Georges Duboeuf, one of the most well-known producers in the region. Before the bottles arrive, the wine merchant sends along posters and a tie or scarf matching their new color scheme and design. This year's is a bold red and mustard yellow.

Tickets are still available for the restaurant and bakery's celebration, which includes a fixed-price dinner that comes with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau. Guests will also find lots of singing and socializing.

In one song, diners can chime in with their thoughts on the year's Beaujolais Nouveau press: "Oui, oui, oui" or "Non, non, non," Gigi said.

What: Beaujolais Nouveau dinner

When: Thursday, Nov. 20

Where: Le Chatelaine; Dublin, Upper Arlington and Worthington