2020: The year that could even ruin a wine holiday

By Dan & Krista Stockman

To say 2020 has been disappointing is an understatement.

Sure, there have been some great moments and opportunities to learn life lessons as a result of the pandemic. But many of the things we look forward to most have been sidelined – family gatherings, concerts, summer festivals, buying paper products whenever you want or need them, etc.

Through it all, though, we’ve had our wine. Even when all stores were closed, wineries and liquor stores had curbside service in a pinch. (We never actually needed to use that kind of service, thanks to our wine cellar, but it got close.) When we couldn’t gather with friends over wine, we gathered with wine over Zoom. It wasn’t the same, of course, but it was appreciated.

When the calendar turned to November a few weeks ago, that meant one thing to us: Nouveau Day is near! Nouveau Day, for those not familiar, is the day the first wine of the vintage is released in France. You can buy Beaujolais all year, of course – and we highly recommend that you do – but Beaujolais Nouveau is only available in November (starting the third Thursday of the month) and December, and should be consumed by New Year’s Day.

Beaujolais Nouveau is a fun, festive wine. It’s a party in a glass. It’s like New Year’s Eve for wine. It’s a new beginning.

We figured that things might not be going as planned this year, but at least we’ll have Nouveau to celebrate.

Then 2020 said: Think again.

In a good year, we can find as many as five or six different Nouveaux. And, usually, it’s no problem finding at least two or three.

Not this year.

This year, the only Nouveau to be found is the ubiquitous Georges Duboeuf. This is the wine with the colorful label you will see in every wine section right now, though they usually don’t last long. [Seriously, it needs to be consumed by the end of the year in which it was released – never mind that Dan recently saw bottles of the 2018 vintage at a local store, and not only was it not on deep clearance, it was 50 percent more than normal retail. That’s expensive vinegar.] For the past several years, we’ve easily found the regular Duboeuf Nouveau and a rosé. But this year, the rosé was nowhere to be found, and other labels we frequently see aren’t available either.

Why not? For one thing, fewer Nouveaux are being imported because of the tariffs imposed in the United States’ trade dispute with the European Union. For another, big, wholesale distributors are getting rid of the wine reps who make sure stores know about, and carry, more obscure brands. It seems the industry would rather just have a website where stores can order inventory than pay commissions to a sales staff.

But at least we could find the DuBoeuf, so as we always do on Nouveau Day, we opened a bottle. And, again, we were disappointed. The nose was not as fresh and vibrant as usual – it usually has lots of yeast in the nose, which should be expected since it was grapes just a few weeks ago – and the taste was not nearly as fun and fruity as we expect. It tasted green, as if the grapes hadn’t fully ripened, which is odd since the Beaujolais region had a heat wave in July and accelerated the ripening of the grapes. The wine just tasted forced. It’s as if the grapes were saying, “You know, we’re really not feeling it this year, either.” But, Nouveau Day comes like it or not, so the wine had to be made.

We’re not sure why we expected anything different. The year started off with George Duboeuf dying at the age of 85 on Jan. 4. Chances are, if it wasn’t for him, American wine-lovers wouldn’t celebrate Nouveau the way we do – he turned an obscure, local French tradition into a worldwide marketing juggernaut.

We’ll move on to the next holidays without Nouveau in hand, but since we have no holiday parties to attend and fewer people around the holiday table, maybe we don’t need to fret about not having fun, yummy Nouveau to bring.

2021 has to be better, right?