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Vin Ordinaire

Annual Ritual Celebrates Arrival of New Beaujolais


"Le Beaujolais Nouveau Est Arrive!" ("The New Beaujolais Has Arrived!") the signs read worldwide.

Displayed in restaurants, taverns and wine shops in November, the announcement marks the wine world's biggest bender: an enthusiastic, if not frivolous, annual ritual to celebrate the purply new wines from France's Beaujolais region. Several area eateries, just like in cities the world over, will celebrate the 1998 harvest with special menus and tastings.

Coming up is a summary of local happenings, but first, for the uninitiated, a little background on the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon. French law prohibits the shipping of the recently bottled stuff until the third Thursday of November, a fact that helped start the Beaujolais Nouveau craze more than 30 years ago.

Hypermarketing created an international race among merchants to be the first to serve wine made from the year's new harvest. At one minute past midnight on the celebrated day, more than 1 million cases of Beaujolais Nouveau begin their journey to all parts of the globe--by jet, by watercraft, plus assorted wacky means such as hot-air balloons and horse-drawn carriages. By luck of time zone differences, local shipments arrive the morning of Nov. 19 in time to be poured with gusto that evening. "It's a fun wine, not a fine wine," said Didier Poirier, owner, chef and transplanted Frenchman of Ventura's 71 Palm Restaurant.

We're talking vin ordinaire, which results from the expeditious harvest of the Gamay Noir grapes, rapid fermentation and speedy bottling. These are young wines--light and fruity with a very limited shelf life--that are meant to be quaffed, not critiqued.

And now for those summary happenings:

* 71 Palm Restaurant will offer a special menu, in addition to its regular fare, Thursday through Nov. 25. Included is a choice of two appetizers: a butcher plate (dry French saucisson, garlic sausage, homemade liver pate, prosciutto, cornichon pickles and white onions) or salad Lyonnaise, followed by a choice of two main courses: coq au vin with mashed potatoes or grilled salmon bernaise with gratin Dauphinois. Desert: warm apple tarte with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream and a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau. $28. The restaurant is at 71 Palm St., Ventura. 653-7222.

* Les Rendez-Vous Restaurant in Newbury Park will offer a four-course dinner served with three different kinds of Beaujolais Nouveau on Thursday. The courses: duck liver pate, French onion soup, medallion of filet mignon with Roquefort sauce, tarte Tatin. Seating begins at 7 p.m. $35. The restaurant is at 1282 Newbury Road. 498-1019.

* Cafe Provencal in Thousand Oaks will pour two kinds of Beaujolais Nouveau with a four-course meal from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday. Menu: blue cheese and walnut salad with a chive dressing, mushroom veloute, coq au vin, and an apple and ice cream dessert. $24.75. The restaurant is at 2310 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd. 496-7121.

* Fins Seafood Grill in Westlake Village will feature the '98 vintages from two wineries, served by the glass or by bottle, and accompanied by dinner specials. Call for menu and prices. The restaurant is at 962-B Westlake Blvd. 494-6494.

* Bouchon in Santa Barbara will pour two glasses of Beaujolais Nouveau with special menu options Thursday through Nov. 22. The entrees include fish, coq au vin and cassoulet. $15-$22, depending on choice of entree. The restaurant is at 9 W. Victoria St. 730-1160.

* Santa Barbara Winery holds an annual variation of Beaujolais Nouveau, except the winery celebrates its own vintage. It is called Beaujour and it's made from foot-stomped zinfandel grapes. The release celebration, 8 p.m. Wednesday, features catered foods served buffet-style from area eateries. $25. Live music, too. Advance tickets required. The winery is at 202 Anacapa St. (800) 225-3633.

* Your own abode: Jean-Claude Guerin, owner of At Your Service catering inside Oxnard's Residence Inn by Marriott at River Ridge, said these wines are perfect to usher in the holidays with friends at home. Guerin, a native of the Burgundy region of France, suggests a multi-course but simple French country meal of pate, baguette and cornichon; roasted chicken (or roasted leg of lamb) with flageolet (French kidney beans); roasted potatoes; salad greens with a mild vinaigrette; a French brie or La Rougette, and a tarte Tatin. Check your local wine shop for a Beaujolais Nouveau near you.

Rodney Bosch writes about the restaurant scene in Ventura County and outlying points. He may be reached at 653-7572, fax 653-7576 or via e-mail at

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