Less sex, please - we're French

Naughty little French wine for Valentine's, anyone? Ooh-la-la, perish the thought. In a ruling which has got French culottes in a serious twist, a campaign advertising Burgundy has been banned for associating sex and wine drinking. Above the caption "Look into the reds of Burgundy and discover the beauty of pinot noir" is an image of a woman in a flowing red evening dress, which turns into a splash of red wine in a glass. Yet the visual pun is so tamely computer-enhanced, the woman so modestly robed, that your imagination would have to be more twisted than a corkscrew to conjure up anything remotely erotic from it.

Naughty little French wine for Valentine's, anyone? Ooh-la-la, perish the thought. In a ruling which has got French culottes in a serious twist, a campaign advertising Burgundy has been banned for associating sex and wine drinking. Above the caption "Look into the reds of Burgundy and discover the beauty of pinot noir" is an image of a woman in a flowing red evening dress, which turns into a splash of red wine in a glass. Yet the visual pun is so tamely computer-enhanced, the woman so modestly robed, that your imagination would have to be more twisted than a corkscrew to conjure up anything remotely erotic from it.

The ruling follows an action by ANPAA, the French association for the prevention of alcoholism and addiction, which claimed that the campaign broke the law by showing a series of attractive women's bodies, which were too suggestive, and "were not simply informative as the law demands". It all stems from the notorious Loi Evin of 1991, a law which stipulates that ads must be strictly informative, and may not use words like "seduce" or anything linking wine to sexual seduction. Yet no action was taken against the recent Bordeaux ad depicting a semi-naked couple apparently licking claret off each other in a Haagen-Dazs-style frenzy of oenophilia.

Wine and the female form have been as French as frites at least since Manet's Déjeuner sur L'Herbe (c.1863). From the symbolic popping of the bottle to images of women wearing very little, sex sells and no one is more aware of it than the purveyors of bubbly. Moët et Chandon deliberately sets out to make its champagne more sexy by sponsoring London Fashion Week's scantily clad catwalk models. Perrier-Jouët's latest ad for its 1985 Belle Epoque Champagne features a naked woman crouching by a bottle. For a special millennium edition, Piper-Heidsieck commissioned Jean Paul Gaultier to design a sexy leather corset for its champagne, while Taittinger, Duval-Leroy and de Venoge have all run campaigns showing women in a variety of suggestive or romantic poses.

If the French persuaders have fallen foul of the Loi Evin, they can consider themselves lucky that they're not operating in the United States, where the prudish Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is the past master of the cover-up. Notoriously, the modesty of a nude girl depicted on the label of the 1993 Mouton Rothschild by French artist, Balthus, had to be draped when Concerned Adults, a Napa Valley organization, objected to the label. The original is now a collector's item. More recently, Anelia Pavlova's depiction of the Madonna on the label of Peter Lehmann's Queen of Clubs Series 2000 Semillon required similar treatment. Examples of equally innocuous art labels falling foul of the TTB abound, and, predictably, sell out.

A British wine label enthusiast, Peter May, collects labels like these and posts them on his website, www.winelabels.org. The label of Amber Forever, for instance, a sweet Cape Muscat from Muratie, shows a woman in sexy stockings and suspenders. May thinks such labels can help take some of the snobbery out of wine. "After all, isn't wine supposed to be a drink that's designed for us to simply enjoy," he says. That might be a little too révolutionnaire for the ANPAA to swallow. Simply worrying about drunk driving and underage binge drinking might not be quite so much fun.

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