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December 5, 2010

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Beaujolais time again

THE latest batch of Beaujolais Nouveau, the popular French wine that's more fun than fine, made its debut a few weeks ago.

The verdict for some: a sweet, fruity and authentic flavor that matches 2009's excellent harvest.

"It's excellent! I really like it!" said 72-year-old Francois Cheri, who has tasted it for the past 30 years. "It's soft, warm and very agreeable."

According to a rule in place since 1985, Beaujolais Nouveau can not be uncorked until the start of the first minute of the third Thursday of November. The scrupulously respected rule opens the way for midnight celebrations that continue into the day.

At "Ma Bourgogne," a Paris restaurant that serves the wine, everything was meticulously prepared for the first customers, including colorful table napkins announcing the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau.

"Autumn is here, the weather has changed. It's not so jolly. A little bit of Beaujolais wont hurt anyone," Cheri said with a grin.

"This year, it's a real treat," said Dominique Capart, head of Inter Beaujolais, an association that promotes the wine. "You smell the red fruits, the blackcurrant, the raspberries. It's crisp and smooth in the mouth."

Beaujolais Nouveau is produced by 3,000 small wine growing estates in the Beaujolais region near Lyon from one grape variety, Gamay Noir a Jus Blanc. Grapes are often handpicked then left to macerate for a period of four to five days, a process that ensures a fresh, light taste and low alcohol content.

For many refined French palates, however, Beaujolais Nouveau does not make the cut.

"It's not a wine. It's practically a chemical product," said Dominique Richard. "Every year they say it tastes like bananas, like this, like that. It won't go in my stomach."

Frederique Costard agreed. "It's not wine. Many people will buy one bottle a year, and we leave the rest for export," he said.

Beaujolais Nouveau has a wide following abroad. Despite the economic downturn, more then 15.2 million bottles were exported to 110 countries in 2009, according to Inter Beaujolais. Japan wins the prize as the biggest importer with 6 million bottles - and because of the time zone it is in gets the first taste each year. The United States is the second-biggest customer of the wine, with 2.3 million bottles.

But some here might be surprised to learn that more then half of the total production of 39.5 million Beaujolais Nouveau bottles were sold in France.

For Nicolas Pascua, manager of "Ma Bourgogne," there will always be a place for the wine in France. "There are always wine lovers (here) so there are no worries."


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