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Posted at 2:01 PM ET, 11/14/2006

Free French Wine

By Fritz Hahn

If you're a hardcore oenophile, you probably look down your nose at Beaujolais Nouveau, the light, fruity wine that's aged for just a few weeks before being consumed -- traditionally by peasants at harvest festivals. By French law, it cannot be sold before the third Thursday in November. Clever marketing by the giant Georges Duboeuf has turned that date into a worldwide event. From Paris to Tokyo, restaurants and bars stay open until midnight to serve the wine, whose debut is announced on posters that proclaim, "Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" Even if Beaujolais Nouveau isn't the most fantastic red you've ever had, it's a great excuse for a party.

Bistrot du Coin is normally ground zero for Beaujolais festivities in Washington, bringing in a French DJ, moving chairs to create a dancefloor and allowing Mayor Tony Williams to pop the first cork. Stacks of wineboxes make the entrance resemble a warehouse, but once midnight comes, you can drink as much of the wine as you like -- no catch. No wonder women usually wind up dancing on the bar by the end of the night. The downside of all this fun is the evening's popularity. You usually can't get through the doors without table reservations -- in a nightclub-style twist, all guests' names are on a list -- and seats for the last dinner seating (9 p.m.) have been gone for weeks. Your best bet is to show up late and hope that some diners don't stick around too long, but lines can stretch down the block.

Les Halles throws a party that may be a good option for last-minute deciders, with free wine from Joseph Drouhin, a DJ and a crowd that's lively, but not as rambunctious as the Bistrot's. Again, there's usually a line, so arrive on the early side.

If you don't need the rush of excitement that comes from sipping the first bottle of the year, Bistro Bis has a free Thursday afternoon tasting of the well-regarded Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau, plus free hors d'oeuvres and canapes.

For reasons unknown to me, the Alliance Francaise -- the government-sponsored French cultural institute -- never celebrates French holidays on the proper weekday, preferring to celebrate Bastille Day, Fête de la Musique or the uncorking of Beaujolais Nouveau the following weekend. If you can wait until Friday, the Alliance celebrates the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau with a wine-and-cheese party at its Kalorama headquarters. The ticket covers food, drink and music by singer Simone Marchand and Mediterranean group Gibraltar. This may be the best place to practice your somewhat-shaky French; the audience includes many people who have taken language classes at the cultural center.

What's most surprising this year are the restaurants that aren't participating. L'Enfant, which has previously sponsored a Wednesday night party, isn't doing anything. Beginning Thursday, Bethesda's Mon Ami Gabi offers a special menu with a Rosette de Lyon sausage-and-butter sandwich on a baguette ($9.95) or Beaujolais-braised beef and pasta ($19.95), but nothing to highlight the wine itself.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | November 14, 2006; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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I used to organize the Beaujolais Nouveau Celebration at the French Embassy - it happened almost 17 years in a row - but alas, the most recent Embassy staff declined to hold the event - Sacre bleu - no more Official Celebration!!!

Charlie Adler, President

Posted by: Charlie Adler | November 14, 2006 8:04 PM | Report abuse

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