No storm over Beaujolais Nouveau

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 13, 2012 - 7:57 PM

Sandy is causing a shortage of the once-loved wine, but demand has been dwindling for several years.

The Twin Cities will see a Beaujolais Nouveau shortage this week, but superstorm Sandy is only partly to blame.

Some of the wine got stuck waiting to get into and out of East Coast ports, according to wine wholesalers.

"It's been a nightmare," said Ulf. E. Bach of Margon-Skoglund.

But even before the storm hit the coast, demand had been falling for the wine, which is the first European bottling every year and, for many, a harbinger of the vintage,

The longtime raison d'etre for festivities on the third Thursday of November has lost luster of late, especially among younger consumers. Even Franco-friendly stores such as France 44 and Haskell's have scaled back orders, and the French-American Chamber of Commerce has shifted its annual mid-November dinner from a Beaujolais Nouveau theme to a "Fete du Vin" with a range of French wines.

"We don't want to give up on Beaujolais Nouveau completely," said chamber vice president Jerome Chateau, noting that several wines from Beaujolais will be served. "It's a great tradition. It can be criticized for being overly marketed, but it really is a harvest feast."

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the annual release date was "quite an event, people filling the shop, a really big deal," said France 44 president Rick Anderson. But the Nouveau craze "started slowing down in 2003, when we had the war in Iraq and everyone was mad at France," he added.

As prices have risen (from an average of $10 a decade ago to around $15 now), interest has fallen, Anderson said he "has cut way back" on orders in recent years.

The wine still sells briskly on its release date, said Haskell's buyer Mitch Spencer. "We're busy at 9:01 [a.m.], and we go all day," he said. But the young wine is meant to be consumed shortly after arrival, and "we just sold out of last year's Nouveau in August. It's losing a little of its mystique."

Anderson concurred: "When they say it's bad luck not to drink it before New Year's, well, I know it's bad luck if you haven't sold it by New Year's."

The Sofitel Hotel and Café Barbette still hold Nouveau events. And the Sofitel will still roll out a red carpet, literally, for the wine's morning arrival, but its dinner will feature mostly non-Nouveau wines from Beaujolais.

Cafe Barbette owner Kim Bartmann said she considered canceling her Nouveau Night this year, but "my staff said people still love that event. But we had a bunch leftover last year, and we did not move it as fast as we have in the past."

Bartmann said savvier consumers are tightening the noose on Beaujolais Nouveau. "It used to be a real soft, easy-drinking wine, and that was enough. People have more sophisticated palates these days."

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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