Much of the mystique of wine can be found in the aging process -- the months and years required to mellow the fermented grape, and the way it grows and develops and changes over time. You canít just bottle this stuff and drink it right away.

Or can you?

Beaujolais Nouveau may be the best-known wine that puts the lie to the ďbetter with ageĒ assumption. The whole point of this French import is that itís new (hence the name), as in young, as in the grapes were just picked this year and youíre drinking it now, fresh from the vineyard.

The fruity, friendly red is traditionally released to much fanfare in France each year, on the third Thursday in November. Locally, La Chatelaine bistros celebrate with their own tradition: A cooking contest that asks chef apprentices from Columbus State Community College to craft special dishes celebrating the Beaujolais Nouveau.

Your humble blogger was honored to be asked to help judge the competition once again. Iíve participated in this event several times, and itís one of the tastiest highlights of the year for me.

This yearís contestants were (left to right): Melissa Holden, Columbus State class of 2009, who created a braised rabbit chasseur with sage-butter potato and carrot purees; Harmon Swartz, class of 2009, who made a cassoulet with lamb, duck and pork, served with a tangy, citrusy red cabbage on the side; and Jessica Boutte, class of 2010, who prepared an herbed potato haystack on seared salmon with a red wine reduction.

It was a tough decision -- all three were delicious -- but Swartzís rustic dish was the winner. His cassoulet -- a hearty, meaty and beany stew -- will be served at a special dinner on Thursday, November 15, at all three La Chatelaine locations. The $32.95 meal includes a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau; reservations are required.

La Chatelaine 1550 W. Lane Ave., Upper Arlington 614-488-1911 Web: lachatelainebakery.com

La Chatelaine 627 High St., Worthington 614-848-6711 Web: lachatelainebakery.com

La Chatelaine 65 W. Bridge St., Dublin 614-763-7151 Web: lachatelainebakery.com