If you think our attitude to alcohol in the UK is ambivalent, you need look no further than across the Channel to see that the French have got their culottes in an even more serious twist. A Parisian court recently found that an editorial piece in Le Parisien newspaper entitled "The Triumph of Champagne" should be considered as advertising. As a result, the judge found, newspaper articles on wine should be subject to the same health and safety guidelines as alcohol advertising and display health warnings. According to the National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction (Anpaa), which was awarded €5,000 (£3,750) in damages, "any communication in favour of an alcoholic drink, such as the series of articles in favour of Champagne, constitutes advertising and is therefore subject to the public health code".
France's alcohol policy is a consequence of the draconian Évin Law dating from 1991 formulated by one Claude Évin (whose name sounds like a translation of "and wine"). In place of self-regulation and voluntary codes of practice, alcohol advertising is strictly controlled by law. Along with a ban on alcohol advertising on TV and sports sponsorship, ads for alcoholic drinks must include a health message to the effect that misuse of alcohol is a health risk. The latest manifestation of the policy is that all wines' labels are required to depict a pregnant woman with a red slash across her bulge. Ironically, this picture is forbidden in the United States.
The advertising row has been further fuelled by the leaking of a report to the French newspaper, Libération, showing that the French Government plans to reduce alcohol consumption in France, currently 55 litres per head, by 20 per cent before 2009. The report suggests that wine consumption in France would drop by 50 per cent by then if the anti-alcohol advertising legislation continues to be strictly enforced. This has proved embarrassing for a government that had just assured wine producers that it would be softening its tough approach on generic advertising. Nicolas Sarkozy himself is an embarrassment to the French wine industry in that wine doesn't pass his lips at all. Yet it seems that he may actually be sympathetic to the view that personal responsibility counts for more in a democratic country than an interfering nanny state.
It's not the first time the French authorities have clamped down on editorial independence. A few years back, a court in Beaujolais fined a wine magazine, Lyon Mag, for describing Beaujolais as a vin de merde (crap wine). Luckily for the critic, and freedom of expression, the decision was overturned on appeal. It does seem odd that myopia and sanctimony should coexist in a nation synonymous with the production and consumption of many of the great wines of the world. It's as much a conundrum as the French paradox itself: the relatively low rate of coronary heart disease in relation to the volumes of fat consumed. At least one Frenchman sees the funny side of the state's public health neurosis. Witness the Métro poster warning "L'alcool tue lentement" (alcohol kills slowly) overwritten with the graffiti, "Je ne suis pas pressé" (Not to worry, I'm in no great hurry).
Christmas Wine Quiz:
My thanks to the many hundreds of readers who entered our fiendish Wine & Drinks Quiz (29 December) and congratulations to the lucky winner, Mags Moyes, of Fife, who wins a six-bottle case of Bollinger Special Cuvée Champagne, and the runner-up, Mr M Lightfoot, from Essex, who wins a 'Century of Port' from Taylor's. The answers were: baa bac cbb ccb abc cac bc.Reuse content