Beaujolais Nouveau 2008, Georges DuBoeuf
Francois Mori/AP
The 2008 edition of a Beaujolais Nouveau wine is displayed at a bar in Paris, Thursday, Nov.
20, 2008.

Sluggish Economy Puts a Cork in Beaujolais Nouveau Release

November 21, 2008 10:00 AM
by Anne Szustek
The annual November frenzy surrounding the release of the French table wine is subdued this year due to higher prices from shipping and a bad growing season.

Beaujolais Nouveau 2008 Tastes the Sour Economy

The 2008 Beaujolais Nouveau was released Nov. 20, the third Thursday of November, as stipulated by French law and tradition. The fruity, red “vin de table”—meaning that it is geared toward solely drinking rather than for cellars—made from Gamay grapes is the first wine of the season, usually welcomed by a marketing blitz.

In New York, this year’s Beaujolais was ushered in by a cavalcade of 15 French chefs on motorcycle. Japan popped the first of several corks so patrons at a hot springs resort in the town of Hakone could drench themselves in vats of the newly released wine.

But in the American and Japanese markets, the top two consumers of Beaujolais Nouveau, recent declines in sales of the varietal have cast pallor on the much-feted wine. Exports of Beaujolais Nouveau fell 21 percent from 2006 to 2007, according to data provided by France’s Federation of Wine and Spirit Exporters (FEVS).
“In Japan the fall was by 28 percent,” reports Agence France-Presse. “Sales in Japan have dropped from a record 12.5 million in 2004 to 8.26 million last year.” Stateside, 2.55 million bottles of Beaujolais were shipped from France last year, down from 3.9 million bottles in 2001.

Several makers of Beaujolais Nouveau are taking cost-cutting measures this year, including efforts to lower shipping weight, in turn reducing their carbon footprints as well. Plus, despite a waterlogged summer in France that led to the smallest harvest since 1975, “we didn’t change the Beaujolais Nouveau’s price much because we know it’s hard for our customers in times of crisis,” Nicolas Pasqua, manager of a Paris restaurant specializing in Beaujolais and Bourgogne wine, told The Associated Press.

FEVS deputy director Renaud Gaillard said the current economic downturn could spur sales of lower-priced wines like Beaujolais. But a weakened dollar has played into a slow but steady price increase in the November wine. With the average price for 2008 Beaujolais releases around $13–15, some oenophiles are opting for cheaper wines with more panache.

Background: The Beaujolais Nouveau tradition

At home in France and abroad, Beaujolais Nouveau suffers a bit of an image problem—namely that it is too fruity and frivolous and thus undeserving of its annual hoopla.

“Snobbery is one of the engines driving the wine market, and the Nouveau craze, with its populist appeal,” writes Slate wine critic Mike Steinberger, “had the effect of making Beaujolais an object of disdain among the sophisticates, ever determined to stay two steps ahead of the riffraff.”

The wine, fermented for just a matter of weeks, is a light-bodied wine even for its namesake Beaujolais region of France, an area known for producing soft varietals. The annual Beaujolais Nouveau is meant to be consumed within a year, its producers stress.

The wine is part of the region’s annual celebration of the harvest. Beaujolais Nouveau was never exported until after World War II, however, its international marketing push first launched in 1985. Several Beaujolais regional producers release their annual “primeur,” or first, wine; nonetheless, arguably the best-known maker is Georges Duboeuf, one of the major forces behind making the wine an international phenomenon.

Reference: Wine guides


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