France welcomes best Beaujolais 'in a lifetime' with less gusto

People drink wine during the Beaujolais launch in the center of Lyon, France.
People drink wine during the Beaujolais launch in the center of Lyon, France.REUTERS
Men roll barrels of Beaujolais for the official launch of the 2015 vintage in Lyon, France.
Men roll barrels of Beaujolais for the official launch of the 2015 vintage in Lyon, France.REUTERS
People drink wine during the official launch of the 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau in Lyon, France.
People drink wine during the official launch of the 2015 Beaujolais Nouveau in Lyon, France.REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - It may be scant consolation after what France has been through since last week's terror attacks, but its winemakers claimed on Thursday that this year's Beaujolais Nouveau wine is the best in a lifetime.

Connoisseurs love to look down their noses at the young wine from the Burgundy known more for the hangovers it can give rather than its quality, but this year's grapes have produced the best vintage in living memory, argued Georges Duboeuf, "the king" of the region's wine dealers.

"We had a wet spring then record sunshine in July when the Rhone region was the hottest in the whole of France. It's a historic vintage," confirmed Jean Bourjade, of the vintners group Inter-Beaujolais.

But following the attacks in which 129 died in the capital, France and Paris in particular could not celebrate the arrival of the wine with its usual gusto.

"There were practically no reservations" for a normally popular Beaujolais evening in one major Paris hotel, Christian Navet of the main hotels association said, with bars only ordering in half the bottles they usually would.

Undeterred television producer Marie - who is not usually a fan of the wine - took her first sip at La Grappe d'Or bistro in central Paris, and declared it was "rather good".

"It is not too sweet. There's often a banana taste in the years when they put in too much yeast (to speed up the fermentation), but it's rather nice," she said.

Like many, she had her glass on the terrace despite the drizzle to show "that we will never give in" to terrorism changing the way Parisians live.

Thousands took to the terraces of the capital's cafes in a collective act of "French resistance" on Tuesday evening prompted by two separate Twitter campaigns to defy the attackers, who mowed down many of their victims as they chatted at outside tables.

"Our hearts are hurting terribly," admitted Nicolas Decatoire, who runs the Le Gavroche restaurant in the old financial quarter.

"But we cannot forget our traditions... this is French New Year," he joked, "and we can't be dictated to by a gang of idiots."

Despite the brave front, Decatoire and other bar and restaurant owners told AFP that takings have fallen steeply since Friday's simultaneous attacks across the city in which 352 people were also injured, with some still in a critical condition in hospital.

"At this time when the French art of living is being attacked" 50 winemakers from Beaujolais, north of the eastern city of Lyon, said in a statement they had decided to drive their new wine - some of it only weeks old - to the capital in a convoy of Citroen 2CVs, the noisy little cars which are also a symbol of a certain carefree France.

In another sign that the country is looking for solace and reassurance, sales of US literary great Ernest Hemingway's joyful memoir of 1920s Paris, A Moveable Feast, have surged since the attacks.

Its French translation "Paris est une fete" - which literally means "Paris is a Party" - topped Amazon France's biographies chart on Thursday and was second in the overall bestsellers list.

Psychologist Helene Romano told AFP that falling back on feel-good shared memory and traditional rituals can help people "get over the consequences of traumatic events. This is true of all cultures forever."

The traditional Beaujolais tastings held overseas - where sales have been falling in recent years - also took on a more sombre and emotional tone in the wake of the bloodshed in Paris.

In Japan, Beaujolais' biggest market, drinkers observed a minute's silence and raised their glasses to France - a gesture usually reserved for funerals - before they tasted this year's wine.

"We asked ourselves if we should still go ahead (with the traditional midnight tastings) but we decided we must to support France," said Yuji Yamazaki, managing director of Suntory Wine International.

In London, French wineseller Laurent Faure of the Vieux Comptoir, said they were expecting people from many nationalities to turn up at tasting events to show their "solidarity" with France.