'Sunny' Beaujolais nouveau hits shops

20th November 2003, Comments 0 comments

BEAUJEU, France, Nov 20 (AFP) - One minute after midnight on Thursday, the ceremonial curtain was drawn back amid plumes of smoke to reveal an enormous barrel containing the precious commodity.

BEAUJEU, France, Nov 20 (AFP) - One minute after midnight on Thursday, the ceremonial curtain was drawn back amid plumes of smoke to reveal an enormous barrel containing the precious commodity.

"Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived!" (Beaujolais Nouveau est arrive!") the announcer proclaims portentously in Beaujeu, home of the French tradition which has turned into a global, and marketing, phenomenon.

Glasses of this year's vintage are poured out for the 15,000 people gathered in the main square of this Rhone town, in southeast France.

"It's not the best wine, but it's good. It's more about the atmosphere," one of those gathered, Australian Katherine Macleod, opined.

On the podium, local deputy Bernard Perrut was waxing more lyrical."It's a good vintage, bursting with sunshine; the wine of the heatwave."

Throughout France's wine-making regions, a very hot summer and lack of rainfall has hit the size of the grape harvest, but winemakers are predicting a fine vintage, as the weeks of dry, hot weather improved the quality and taste of the grapes by reducing the amount of water in the tiny fruit.

Before the midnight tasting, a mighty cortege led by torch-bearers paraded through the historic capital of Beaujolais to the sound of a fanfare, bringing with them the ceremonial flaming vine branches.

Earlier at a grand dinner, a thousand guests of all nationalities toasted the new arrival.

Among the guests of honour were a group of five Beaujolais nouveau lovers from Hokkaido in nothern Japan.

Wearing the evening's official straw hat, Akiko Ikeda was enthusiastic: "I love Beaujolais nouveau because it is a light wine".

Japan is the biggest importer of Beaujolais nouveau, getting through more than seven million bottles. Its popularity brought two Japanese television crews out to film the event.

"It's a fashionable wine, a party wine with a very good marketing strategy," explained Masatoshi Saito, a journalist with the TBS private television station.

Marcel Laplanche, who boasts the magnificent title of grand chamberlain of the brotherhood of companions of Beaujolais, a group which promotes the region's wine, proclaimed that Beaujolais nouveau "is a joy that is quaffed from Japan to Iceland".

His feelings are backed up by a woman dressed as a grape: "Beaujolais nouveau is a friendly wine. The only problem is that people confuse it with the grand crus". The grape turns out to be Alou Viornery, vice-president of the appellation of Brouilly, one of the ten crus, or groups of vineyards, in Beaujolais.

Seated nearby was a group of Russians who discovered Beaujolais nouveau two years ago.

"It's a simple wine for the people. It's the occasion for little parties in the cafes with the wine flowing," said Janna Koutchoukyan.

From Ekaterinburg, on the Siberian border, Olga Noskova filmed the whole thing. "Magnifique," she exclaimed in French.

She decided to come here to taste the new wine because it would take three weeks to reach her back home.

Beaujolais Nouveau, grown in a region just south of Burgundy, is made from Gamay grapes picked in the late summer and early autumn, and vinified to be bottled and drunk before Christmas.

Every year, the Beaujolais Nouveau is released on the third Thursday in November.

Last year with the 2002 vintage, a total of 63 million bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau were sold in 150 countries. Japan led the imports, closely followed by Germany. The United States came in third position with sales last year of around four million bottles.

But wine traders, aware that demand is flattening out, are working hard at opening new markets such as Russia and South Korea.

In France, supermarkets alone sold 11 million bottles of the 2002 Beaujolais Nouveau. This year, with the buzz fizzling, retailers will have to work hard to reach that figure.

Over the last few years, Beaujolais had been on the wane among the Paris region's young and trendy according to Olivier Mouchet, chief wine buyer for the big Auchan supermarket chain. "But it needs very little to revive the festive mood associated with Beaujolais Nouveau," he said.

However, those who usually refuse to get over-excited about the whole event are positively bubbling over about the 2003 Nouveau.


Subject: French news

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