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Thursday, November 19, 1998 Published at 08:42 GMT

Business: Your Money

Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé: But who cares?

Beaujolais Nouveau day gets the new vintage off to a cracking start

Corks will be popping around the world on Thursday as lovers of Beaujolais Nouveau mark the start of a new French vintage by quaffing large quantities of the popular tipple.

Beaujolais Nouveau day, which always falls on the third Thursday of November, has become an excuse to throw a party.

Pubs and off licences around the country will be organising events and holding tasting sessions and wine bars will be frequented by early diners feasting on a Beaujolais breakfast.

Last year 55m bottles of Beaujolais Nouveau were consumed around the world.

Annual antics

[ image: A fad or a fine wine?]
A fad or a fine wine?
The day became so popular that it even spawned an annual race.

In 1972 Allan Hall, writing in the Sunday Times, challenged his readers to bring back the first bottles of the new vintage to his desk.

Competitors taking up the challenge have brought Beaujolais Nouveau to the UK using perverse modes of transport including an elephant and a motorised bathtub.

Parisian celebration

Beaujolais Nouveau day began in the early 1960s, springing out of chic Paris cafe society.

[ image: Will the French wine market be crushed by new competitors?]
Will the French wine market be crushed by new competitors?
Traditionally, the Beaujolais region of France produces the best early drinking wine of the new vintage.

As soon as the wine had been fermented it was bottled and sold in Paris and the occasion led to large celebrations.

Since then the quality of the wine has increased markedly as manufacturing techniques have improved.

Last year was a good vintage and the 1998 Beaujolais promises to be even better.

Jean-Christophe Esteve, one of Paris' most prestigious wine dealer, said the wine was marked by "a very successful balance between tenderness and freshness, giving the 1998 vintage a fleshy and silky character with delicious fruit flavours."

Losing its bottle

However Beaujolais Nouveau day is no longer the most important date on the wine industry's calendar.

Tony Mason, trading director with one of the UK's largest wine dealers, Majestic Wine, said: "Beaujolais Nouveau day is far less important than it used to be.

"I can remember back in the 1970s and early 1980s it was really the curtain raiser for the Christmas booze buying campaign. It was enormously important. In the early days, with just 10 or 12 stores, Majestic would buy three lorry loads. Now we would buy a single lorry load even though we have 76 stores."

Spike Garrett, spokesman for First Quench, which owns the UK's largest network of High Street off licences, agrees.

"It is a very young, vibrant and good wine, but sales have tailed off. In the UK we have become so much more cosmopolitan (with our wines) and it is no longer the first of the new vintages. South African and South American wines are released a lot earlier," he said.

Wine whining

In addition Beaujolais Nouveau is not viewed as the wine of choice for the discerning drinker, with connoisseurs and journalists becoming fed up with the hype surrounding its November launch.

Beaujolais sales were also hit by a wine tampering scandal which rocked the industry in the 1980s.

"It was a fad - a long lasting fad but it was a fundamentally fashionable fad. Like all fads it has had its day," said Mr Mason.

However, that is unlikely to stop thousands of people enjoying a good time on Thursday.

Spike Garrett has already ordered brioche, french bread and cheese to accompany his Beaujolais and get France's new wine season off to a fine start.

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