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Uncorking Providence’s midnight wine party

Pot au Feu’s annual Beaujolais Nouveau fete starting on Wednesday is a wine-soaked good time

Providence restaurateur Bob Burke at his 2022 Midnight Madness party, an annual celebration at which he uncorks French wines counting down to midnight when he pours the Beaujolais Nouveau.Robert Burke

It might only be November, but this Wednesday there’s going to be an epic countdown to midnight. Instead of ringing in the New Year, Pot au Feu is going to be counting down uncorking one of France’s most famous wines.

Beaujolais Nouveau is an “early release” wine, which goes from being grapes on the vine to wine in a glass in only 60 days. The grapes are harvested sometime in September, and winemakers have it in bottles in six or eight weeks, ready to ship around the world to 110 countries, according to Wine Folly.

Unlike most reds that age in barrels and then bottles for what could be several years, Beaujolais Nouveau is designed to be enjoyed quickly. But not too quickly. According to French law, the wine can’t be opened until the third Thursday in November to allow enough time for the flavors to develop.

That’s where the midnight countdown comes in.


In France, there are celebrations all over Beaujolais leading up to the release day. Les Sarmentelles, the biggest of them all, lasts four days, and includes wine tastings, concerts, performances and parties. In Providence, the celebration starts at 10 p.m. on Nov. 15, when Pot au Feu kicks off its Midnight Madness party. Every 15 minutes, owner Bob Burke uncorks a different French wine, pouring tastings paired with French bites for the crowd, until midnight approaches. Then, at 12:01 a.m. when it’s technically Nov. 16, the restaurant will pour the first Beaujolais Nouveau served in America.

Pot au Feu patrons enjoying French wines served at Bob Burke's 2022 Midnight Madness party at Pot au Feu restaurant in Providence, R.I.Robert Burke

Aurelien DuBoeuf, from Les Vins Georges DuBoeuf, the winery that turned Beaujolais Nouveau into a worldwide sensation, will be at the restaurant to uncork the first bottles of the season.

There are other celebrations of Beaujolais Nouveau Day in the country, to be sure, but none like this: even the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., doesn’t have its fête until Saturday.


“He’ll be with us for the one second after midnight cork pulling where we become the first people in North America to drink the Beaujolais Nouveau,” Burke told the Boston Globe.

This year is the restaurant’s 37th celebration of the wine, which is light and fruity, and traditionally consumed from its release to the new year. Because it’s so young and undeveloped, it doesn’t age well. Experts said it’s best to enjoy it at its freshest.

The parties continue through the weekend, with Beaujolais Nouveau barrel dinners where the wine flows and guests enjoy a three-course meal. On Thursday, Nov. 16, the official Beaujolais Nouveau Day, Aurelien DuBoeuf will also be in attendance, both for the barrel dinner and the patrons event beforehand, which is a fundraiser for Providence’s Independence Trail, which Burke, a local historian, also created. At the dinner, the restaurant will “crown” DuBoeuf the “king of Beaujolais Nouveau.”

“That’s when we will tap the barrels, do our annual talent contest, give away prizes, and hold his official Beaujolais Nouveau coronation ceremony in our Independence Trail tavern and wine cellar.” It’s fitting, since Aurelien DuBoeuf’s grandfather Georges was so instrumental in taking the celebration from a small regional festival in Beaujolais to something that’s now celebrated the world over.

“We have this wonderful tradition of this alliance between the French and Rhode Islanders,” Burke said, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War, when the Marquis de Lafayette witnessed British troops defeat American forces during the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778.


“Because Lafayette went back to King Louis with Benjamin Franklin to report to him that if the French did not get involved in the war, the British would win handily,” Burke said. “And that scared the king because he was afraid that if it was British territory from Quebec to New Orleans, the French Empire would be locked out of the riches of the New World. So in a very strategic move, King Louis ordered a raising of an army, 5,500 soldiers who sailed to the United States and landed at [Middletown’s] Second Beach.” That French involvement turned the tide for the Colonists and helped them win American independence.

In Burke’s view, this party is as much a celebration of that as it is of the wine itself. The restaurant started celebrating Beaujolais Nouveau Day in 1987, when Burke was challenged to a wheelbarrow race by the food and beverage director of Stanford’s American Bar and Grill in the Biltmore Hotel, which is now Reiners Bar and Game Room in what’s now the Graduate Providence. “They were brand new and newly opened,” Burke said, “and this crazy Dutchman walked into my bar one day and said, in a heavy Dutch accent, ‘the American forces challenge the French to a battle on the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau.’”

The restaurant raced wheelbarrows full of the wine from the steps of the State House to the steps of City Hall.


“Every year we would have a wheelbarrow race and do all kinds of crazy stuff to see who was going to claim the title,” Burke said. “I have the trophy. We won the last race, and then it changed over to the Graduate, and we retired from the actual foot race portion of it … but we’re still making new traditions. This will be the first time in 36 years that we’ve actually held a coronation.”

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