Headlines in the bussiness sections of various newspapers are abuzz with the latest outrage: fake French Pinot Noir sold to American winemakers! 12 Frenchmen were convicted by a court in Carcassonne, France, for the scheme. Cooked up by what sounds like a negociant, Claude Courset, of the Ducasse Wine Trading Company, who was fined $ 61,000 & given a suspended jail sentence, the scheme was carried out by a company called Sieur D’Arques who sold the syrah & merlot combination to Gallo and Constellation.
The news first broke around Gallo, which used the wine in its ’06 Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir wines. Newer headlines reveal that the giant conglomerate Constellation, which owns Mondavi, Clos du Bois and Ravenswood also bought the fake stuff and used it in their pinots. A spokesman for Gallo expressed “deep disappointment” in its supplier. As for the irrascible French, Monsieur Courset stood by his company saying his wines were “irreproachable”. Sieur D’Arques, which produces Red Bicyclette and sells it under the Gallo umbrella defended itself with the following rationalization: “pinot noir is not really a varietal but a combination of taste characteristics”, which undoubtedly was provided with fidelity. Besides, “no U.S. consumer ever complained”, retorted their spokesman. This did not prevent them from receiving a $ 244,000 fine from their own government.
I am not surprised by the lack of complaining American palates. Retailing at around $ 11 or 12 per bottle, Red Bicyclette does not exactly appeal to pinot noir snobs. Americans know the old adage, “you get what you pay for”, all too well. When it comes to French Burgundy, the “mother” of all pinot noir however, the habit of secretly trucking Languedoc varietals to “spike’ the wines, especially in “thin” years is about as old as the “oldest profession”. For the French wine fraud within their borders may very well be the “second oldest profession”. But Burgundies cost a lot, sometimes in excess of $100 per bottle and they are indeed purchased by more discriminating palates, who find fraud unforgiveable.
Having blindly tasted Burgundy with an experienced group for around 15 years I have come to the firm conclusion that when we collectively guess a bottle to be Syrah and it turns out to be French Burgundy we are not wrong. Our collective palates are simply telling us the naked truth. Somebody trucked something up from the South into the wine.
The big news here is not that the French are illegally spiking Pinot Noir with Languedoc varietals. Rather, it is the fact that they are now exporting this uniquely French habit across the ocean to the U.S. And why not? Pinot Noir is the latest darling of the emerging trendy, wine loving population of the New World. As long as they are willing to pay premium dollar for it, there will be plenty of unscrupulous suppliers attempting to sell them fakes. And for those who want to pay a pittance for the likes of Red Bicyclette, well, they deserve what they get. Don’t they?