Thursday, March 17, 2011

Champagne Bureau: More Than Half Of US Sparkling Wine Is Mislabeled

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Bubbles of rose sparkling wine.Image via Wikipedia

The production of Champagne is a pain-staking process. Two fermentations are required. The bottle must be frozen and the sediment (lees) quickly removed. The traditional method and blending of many vintages of grapes results in an elixir that is the pride of France.

And they don’t appreciate other countries horning in on their prized product.

More than 40 renowned chefs, sommeliers and wine educators called for truth-in-labeling for wines on the fifth anniversary of the Wine Accords by sending a joint letter to members of Congress. The letter calls on Congress to address “misleading wine labels that do not correctly represent the wine’s place of origin.”

There are a number of “American Champagne” winemakers that were exempted under a grandfather clause including Korbel and Cook. Cook, for example, has been making “Champagne” for more than a century.

On March 10, 2006, the United States and the European Union signed an agreement to end “mislabeling of wines” in the U.S. by prohibiting new labels with misleading names such as Champagne or Port. However, existing labels were “grandfathered in,” so today, more than five years later, more than 50 percent of the sparkling wine sold in the U.S. is still incorrectly labeled as Champagne, according to the Champagne Bureau.

“There are many fine American sparkling wines, but they’re only Champagne if they come from Champagne, France,” said Sonia Smith, director of the Champagne Bureau. “We’re encouraged that some of the country’s most famous chefs and sommeliers understand how important label accuracy is for consumers.”

In the five years since the Wine Accords, other countries have taken steps to tighten usage of the term Champagne, often in exchange for concessions from the EU. In 2010, Australia began a one year phase-out of such wine labels, and it plans to eliminate all “false Champagne and Port” by September 2011. The European Union has led the way in defending wine region place names and granted Napa Valley protection in Europe starting in May 2007. Yet in the United States, the Champagne Bureau contends that consumers are still regularly deceived by inaccurately labeled wine.

What’s my take on it? Is anyone really deceived into thinking a $6 bottle of Cook’s Champagne is similar to a fine Krug Champagne that costs more than $200? The claim that millions of Americans are being hoodwinked by charlatans trading on the Champagne name doesn’t ring true to me. Buyers of $6 wine aren’t really customers of true Champagne in the first place.

However, the high road for producers outside Champagne, France, certainly is to label the product as a special Cuvee or sparkling wine. A number of French Champagne houses have opened up shop in California, Domaine Carneros and Domaine Chandon are two examples. They produce outstanding sparkling wine in the traditional style without a misleading label and they do quite well.

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