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September 23, 2017

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Bonjour! Chef Thomas Keller welcomes back Beaujolais Nouveau to Las Vegas


Sabin Orr

Chef Thomas Keller.

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Holly Madison-Beaujolais Nouveau

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The delivery trucks are loaded. The planes are fueled. Today, they set off to continue the time-honored tradition of delivering the newest Beaujolais vintage throughout Europe and around the world.

It was in 1985 that a French law was passed restricting the release of the wine until the third Thursday of each November. Containers with crates of the wine will be unpacked as of midnight at airports and docks across America and re-shipped by land and air to bistros and French restaurants throughout the country.

The law permits the vintners to sell more than 1 million cases and start serving it one minute past midnight local time anywhere around the globe. It’s the most frivolous and animated ritual in the wine world.

Celebrity chef Thomas Keller will have his bottles ready to start Thursday night’s special Beaujolais dinner service that will run through next Wednesday.

“I’m reactivating the celebration,” he told me over a glass of champagne at his Venetian restaurant Bouchon. “It starts the holiday season just right.

“It’s the first time we’ve offered a unique menu to go with the release. I think back to my younger days, and it was always fun to go for the first barrel. I wanted to bring back that celebration of the harvest.

“It used to have so much excitement when I was in New York in the early ’80s. It was as memorable as the Ash Wednesday mark on your forehead. I can recall the anticipation and excitement surrounding the release each fall earlier in my career.

“I wanted to reintroduce the tradition to our customers because life is too short, and we must have celebrations.”

After his three sommeliers scoured the French countryside, Thomas acquired his Beaujolais Nouveau from the Jean Foillard Vineyard, a small producer near the grand cru village of Morgon. The vines are 40 to 60 years old and are farmed organically to create a light, abundantly fruitful gamay blend.

“Not only is the release of this wine a great way to connect our guests with the French culture,” Thomas continued, ”but it times perfectly with our own Thanksgiving traditions.”

His three-course menu of classic dishes from Lyon and Beaujolais is $45, and Auvergne cheese can be added for $10. A bottle of Foillard Beaujolais is paired for $30. (You can enjoy a glass at the bar for $10.) The first course is a house-made garlic sausage in marinated vegetables. The main course is beef cheeks braised in red wine with carrots, turnips, onions, mushrooms and egg noodles. The finale is a dark chocolate mousse with house-made little sweets.

“It’s so easy to drink with the food. The wine is some of the best value today, and Foillard is widely regarded for its high quality,” he added. It also will be served at his Beverly Hills and Yountville restaurants in California.

Thomas, who had just enjoyed a breakfast with respected French chef Guy Savoy, told me that he has no plans to open more restaurants.

“I haven’t opened a new one in five years” he smiled. “But I am working with my team of French Laundry chefs for the Bocuse D’or world championship in France on Jan. 15. I’m determined to lead my team to a victory one day.”

Before we finished our champagne interview, Thomas said: “It’s my hope that we can re-create the Beaujolais experience and revive some of those memories this year. We’ve celebrated the wine ever since we opened our first Bouchon 15 years ago, but this is the first year we are offering a unique menu focused on the release.”

Guests may make reservations for the Beaujolais dinners at the Venetian at (702 414-1000 and Ask for sommelier Paul Peterson or chef de cuisine Josh Crain to join you for a glass of the red beauty as you rapture over the experience.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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