It's Beaujolais Nouveau time again, and Japan -- despite its piffling per capita consumption of just three bottles of wine a year -- will suddenly become a nation of tipplers and quaffers (if not connoisseurs) of this fresh-from-the-vine red wine from France.

One of the most famous names in the vast galaxy of wines, this year's Beaujolais Nouveau will be uncorked in wine bars and restaurants around the world on Nov. 20. And now, as the day nears, oenophiles and ordinary guzzlers alike are growing daily more impatient to savor the flavor of what was once considered -- as late as the 1960s -- merely cheap plonk for the French working man.

As the first fruit of the vine each year, Beaujolais Nouveau has steadily grown in popularity to become one of the best-selling wines of all. This is especially so in Japan, where -- despite the fact that the first imports were not until 1975 -- the frenzy surrounding its arrival has become as seasonal a staple as baseball's Japan Series or cherry blossom viewing in spring.