Thursday, 18 February 2010

French Wine Fraud

Today's 'papers are full of articles about a recent scam perpetrated by a supplier of Pinot Noir to Gallo in the US (the English 'papers at least, where we particularly revel in any example of a Frenchman doing something wrong).

For a profit of about us$5 million, Gallo was supplied with whatever grapes 8 members of a co-op had lying around their backyards. Instead of supplying the more expensive Pinot Noir, they threw in Merlot and Syrah...and then Gallo sold the plonk under the Red Bicyclette brand in the US.

No one at Gallo spotted the scam and no US consumers did either. It was during a run of the mill audit of the region's vineyard that someone noticed that they were selling twice as much Pinot Noir as the region produced...

At a time when the French wine industry is really struggling in the face of competition from New World wines (such as Chilean), this is a scandal that will seriously damage the French wine brand.

Mind you, wine making is full of little scams...for example, although it's completely illegal, wineries all over the world water down their grape juice before fermentation- otherwise the wine produced would be too alchoholic and too sweet...

And to be quite honest, many wine 'experts' can't tell the difference between good and bad wines...and sometimes even red and white, relying instead on preconceived ideas based on branding and snobbery.

For example, in 2001 a French professor from the University of Bordeaux conducted two, slightly wily, tests.

He assembled 57 French wine experts and served them 2 glasses of wine, one red and one white. The experts described the red wine with the typical red wine language of 'jamminess' and 'crushed red fruit' and described the white in the usual gushing white wine language. So far so good.

Except they were exactly the same wine- the red was simply the white wine dyed with a tasteless red food dye.

His second test was to fill an expensive Gran Cru bottle with middle of the road red wine. He also filled a Vin de Table bottle with the same wine.

Upon serving the wine to the assembled experts, they gave the same wine completely opposite ratings. 40 out of 57 experts said the gran-cru was worth drinking and only 12 ouf of 57 said the vin de table was worth drinking. Same wine, people.

My view of wine drinking...if you like it, drink it. Listen to suggestions but don't take so-called expert opinion as read. If you enjoy red wine with fish or chicken, go for it. 99% of those people sneering at you have no idea what they're talking about and are basing their judgement on what they've been told, not what they know.

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