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Beaujolais nouveau hot in Japan, literally

Japan's craze for Beaujolais nouveau has beaten the global recession, with tourists taking a dip Thursday in a hot mountain spring coloured red with the fruity wine.

The Hakone Kowakien Yunessun spa resort celebrated the annual uncorking of the seasonal drop by having a sommelier pour a few bottles into an open-air hot spring bath as holiday-makers enjoyed soaking themselves.

"It's a very fruity taste," said visitor Eri Yamagida, 21, who also experienced the wine bath last year and said she planned to return next year for the same aromatic pleasure.

It was the fourth annual bath using the produce of the French winery Laboure Roi at the spa, which also offers baths with green tea, coffee and sake.

The Beaujolais service, in which patrons also sip the wine, has struck a cord with Japanese people, who highly value seasonal events, said spa official Mika Okitsu.

Outside the hot spring's soothing waters, however, enthusiasm has waned for the wine, which is traditionally released at the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday in November.

Japanese sales of Beaujolais nouveau have fallen since before the global financial crisis hit the world's second largest economy last year, although Japan remains among its top foreign markets.

Sales in Japan have fallen from a record 12.5 million bottles in 2004 to 8.26 million in 2007 and 6.7 million in 2008.