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Beaujolais arrives, and gets a makeover

Ad goes to English as sales of wine decline in France

PARIS -- Beaujolais Nouveau is getting an English makeover.

The slogan ''It's Beaujolais Nouveau time" replaced the time-honored cry of ''Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!" (''Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived!") when revelers rang in the wine at midnight yesterday with a worldwide bacchanalian feast.

The new slogan is part of a $1.17 million campaign by winegrowers to attract a hipper young clientele for their product, amid slumping wine sales in France.

''Instead of drinking Coke, we are telling young people it's better to drink a glass of Beaujolais," said Michel Rougier, head of the group promoting the region's wines.

The campaign includes radio spots in France a slick new website in French and English aimed at the under-35 crowd.

Producers hope the annual Beaujolais party, traditionally on the third Thursday of November, also will help propel sales in emerging markets such as China. But the revamping met some resistance, at least in Paris, where many cafés and wine bars used posters bearing the old slogan.

Though specialists have declared this year's vintage one of the best in decades, wine buffs traditionally sniff that Beaujolais Nouveau is too light and fruity to register as a ''grand vin." Still, fans love it simply as a party wine that provides a good excuse for midnight merrymaking -- or even breakfast tasting.

''The arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau is the most important event of the year in the Japanese wine world," the Beaujolais producers' website quotes a Japanese importer, Kenji Koga, as saying.

Wine lovers in the Chatham Islands in New Zealand, close to the international date line, were expected to ring in the harvest. In Lyon, near the heart of the Beaujolais region, fireworks preceded the tapping of the barrels at midnight.

This year's vintage, producers say, has notes of wild blackberry, cranberry, and black currant, with hints of cherry and raspberry and spicier flavors. It is being compared to the 1976 vintage, which followed a very hot summer.

Though there are 12 varieties of Beaujolais wine, it is often seen as the poor cousin of more prestigious French varieties such as Bordeaux and Burgundy.

Compounding producers' woes, tougher drunken-driving laws have cut into overall French wine sales over the past few years.

''Close to a third of wine growers in the Beaujolais region are going to shut down by December because market prices remain very low," said Frédéric Sambardier, a grower in the village of Denice. ''We have to . . . teach consumers about Beaujolais all over again."

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