PARIS -- It is described as racy, tender, fruity -- a blend of raspberries and cassis, bred with truth and finesse and cloaked in a ruby robe with hints of violets.
The 1990 Beaujolais, scarcely two months off the vine, has arrived. And as usual, as they say without the trace of a blush every year, it is unquestionably the vintage of the century.
The French wine industry's most extravagant exercise in hype and hoopla was uncorked at midnight -- as happens every third Thursday in November -- when 75 million bottles of mediocre red wine were released around the world. A shipment was even delivered yesterday to the Kremlin by an enterprising producer from Romaneche-Thorins, who calls the land of vodka and kvass "our last great market to conquer."
The heavy-handed marketing of Beaujolais, considered here a simple country wine that ages poorly and does not travel well, has long evoked scorn from French connoisseurs. Consumer tests have shown that much of the new Beaujolais is so heavily "chaptalized" -- or spiked with sugar to boost its alcohol content -- that its true taste is smothered.
But that judgment has not dampened the boosterism of Beaujolais producers, who never shrink from employing prose more purple than their wine to hail every crop as the best ever.
The regional vintner's union declared that "1990 is perhaps the best nouveau to which Beaujolais soil has ever given birth." George Duboeuf, one of the biggest Beaujolais producers, said, "Rarely has a young Beaujolais had such a beautiful color and an aroma so redolent of red fruit." A local vendor was less rapturous in his assessment: "A good wine to gulp."
But there is no question that Beaujolais has become a profitable business for the French, ever since they decided to use marketing ingenuity to build a thriving export market for their most quickly maturing, eminently forgettable wines.
A fleet of Air France cargo planes is mobilized every year to fly more than half of the total Beaujolais production to some 80 countries around the world in advance of the mid-November uncorking date. The avid commercial drive yields more than $200 million a year in foreign exchange earnings.
The wine was nearly blocked from entering the United States this year because of the past French use of procymidone, a fungicide not approved by the U.S. government. But after France gave assurances that the fungicide was no longer being used, U.S. officials allowed nearly 2 million bottles of the wine into the country. Ivana Trump accepted the first bottle to reach the United States in a ceremony yesterday in New York.
Because of the falling dollar, American consumers may have to pay as much as $10 a bottle for this year's Beaujolais, much higher than the cost of superior wines from Bordeaux or California. But that is still cheap compared with the horrendous $27 a bottle that Japanese drinkers will shell out.
Worse, Japan lost its traditional distinction this year of being the first country (because of the eight-hour time difference with France) to drink the new Beaujolais. Because of the tight security imposed for Emperor Akihito's enthronement, all cargo flights were suspended. So Japan decided to delay the opening of the first bottles until next Thursday.