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Millions of litres of Spanish wine being passed off as French by Gallic trade

Published:  10 July, 2018

French wine drinkers are a patriotic lot, so many will have been in for a serious shock to discover that their favourite glass of vin may well have made the trip north from Spain’s sunnier climes.

Following a two-year investigation looking into the labelling and presentation of origin during 2016 and 2017, French body DGCCRF (Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Frauds) has concluded that up to a fifth of establishments visited had been selling wine that obscured or hid its origin.

The report, which made headlines in the French press, said: “22% of the establishments visited in 2016 and 15% of the establishments visited in 2017 were subject to non-conformities ranging from confusing [labelling] to ‘Frenchification’, the latter being an offense that is the subject of criminal penalties.”

A majority of this wine, including much rosé, came from Spain and has been sold as own label or house wine, but was labelled in such a way as to suggest that it’s origin was French.

Examples given in the report of the tricks used included the use of names such as ‘Fleur-de-Lis’ or ‘Cuvee du Patron’, often with an image of a French-looking chateau or castle, with mention "Vin d'Espagne" or "Vin de la European Community” confined to small lettering on the back label, “and in a way that was difficult to read”.

Of the 2,414 on-trade outlets audited to check wine sold in pitchers, the main type of non-compliance was “lack of mention of the wine’s origin on the list”.

On the subject of ostensibly passing off Spanish and EU wine as French, the report noted the severity of such frauds, which “are the subject of criminal procedures for deception [and] deceptive commercial practice (PCT).”

Under French law PCT carries penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine of €300,000, or up to 10% of a company’s turnover.

“Several cases of [French-looking wine] involving volumes ranging from 2,000 hl to 34,500 hl (equivalent to 4.6 million bottles) were noted. Spanish wines were sold in bulk as ‘French wine’ or even by usurping a French IGP name”, found the report.

One store was required to remove 16,700 bottles of Spanish wine from its shelves due to misleading labelling.

Some bag-in-box wines were also found wanting, selling themselves in appearance as French, when again the liquid inside came from Spain or elsewhere.

In the past Spain has had a long history of “sending wine upstairs”, as one producer put it to Harpers. And while the DGCCRF report found that the vast majority of wine was correctly labelled, it seems that old habits die hard, especially when there is a commercial benefit – such as snapping up cheaper Spanish bulk – to passing off someone else’s plonk as your own.