Beaujolais Nouveau no more?

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The century's final vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau wine went on sale in Paris on Thursday, but there are signs the cheeky young wine is losing some of its pulling power at home.

The century's final vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau wine went on sale in Paris on Thursday, but there are signs the cheeky young wine is losing some of its pulling power at home.

The costumed bartenders who once uncorked Beaujolais Nouveau at crowded parties on the Champs-Elysees have all but vanished, and promotional campaigns in wine shops and supermarkets were the most subdued in years.

"There's definitely less excitement this year, but if you offer people a good Beaujolais, they'll drink it," said brasserie owner Pierre Romieu as he filled a customer's glass to the brim at a cost of just seven francs ($1.16).

"This year it's much better than previous ones that tasted like bananas."

Once front page news, the annual event held on the third Thursday in November got a scant half page this year in the city's major dailies. However, the wine inflamed passions in Britain - but for reasons of politics not palate.

Sky Television showed farmers pouring early batches of Beaujolais down the drain and calling for a nationwide boycott in retaliation for France's refusal to import British beef.

They wanted a British Beef and Beer Day instead.

Jacques Melac, owner of a Paris wine bar in the working class 11th district who bought 1,800 bottles for a party Thursday night, scoffed at events across the Channel.

"They are jealous because they have no wine. It's raining all the time and they are sad," he said. "What do they have? Pudding and beer! What do we have? We've got Beaujolais!"

"The people of the Beaujolais region are calling them the mad cows," he added. He defiantly said this year's Beaujolais was top quality, "with the flavor of cranberries and raspberries."

Given its worldwide popularity, it may be too soon to call Beaujolais Nouveau a bust.

The unpretentious, inexpensive red wine - made from young Gamay grapes picked less than two months before bottling - remains one of France's most popular exports.

A marketing gimmick started three decades ago, today the wine is rushed by sea, land and air to far flung corners of the globe, including Japan, which imported 400,000 cases this year.

In 1998, Beaujolais Nouveau exports reached 372 million francs ($62 million), with Germany topping the list of foreign consumers. Britain imported about 2.2 million bottles.

But a random sample of bars, cafes and brasseries in a business district behind the Champs-Elysees showed waning enthusiasm among regulars.

"I used to sell my first glass of Beaujolais at 9:00 a.m., but today, we poured the first glass at noon," said Rene Bourel, owner of a traditional cafe.

When it comes to Beaujolais, the French put aside their gourmet pretensions and defer to tradition.

"No matter what it tastes like, I'll still drink it," said Jean-Yves Pointeau, a decorator. "It's a French tradition.

French wine critics this year lavished praise on the wine's floral bouquet, delicate blend of red fruit flavors and garnet-red robe.

Francois Simon, food and wine critic for the daily Le Figaro, noted the predominance of subtle red fruit flavors including cherry, strawberry and cranberry.

"This year's vintage also is more full-bodied and has more staying power on the palate than in previous years," he said in a telephone interview. "It's more like a young fine wine that will age well."

Simon compared the Beaujolais Nouveau celebration to Halloween and Bastille Day and called it simply "a pretext for the French to have a party."

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