French wine hit by second scandal

THE FRENCH wine industry, still recovering from the ignominious case of the Bordeaux milk-shake, has been struck by another alleged scandal: the saga of the sweet-and-sour Burgundy.

It is suggested - even admitted - that some of the most prestigious and expensive red burgundies sold at the Hospices de Beaune auction last November were doctored with sugar and tartaric acid. While it is permitted to treat wine with one substance or the other, it is illegal under EU regulations to use both at once.

The allegations, made by the newspaper Liberation, are not so clear-cut as the wrong-doings under criminal investigation at the Chateau Giscours in the Margaux area of the Bordeaux vineyards. There, two senior employees face possible charges of fraud after mixing milk, water, acid and cheaper, local red wine into the chateau's 1995 second vintage.

But to wine purists the goings-on in Burgundy may be more disturbing, because they appear to be more widespread and are officially tolerated.

The Hospices de Beaune auctions, which take place every third Sunday in November, are one of the most celebrated events in the global wine calendar. Buyers from all over the world bid for barrels of wine from small plots of the best Burgundy vineyards which have been bequeathed to the local hospitals over the centuries. The words Hospices de Beaune on a label carry enormous prestige - or snob value.

Liberation reported that some of the grapes for the past year's vintage were picked too early and lacked sugar. Andre Porcheret, chief wine-maker for the Hospices de Beaune, admitted to the newspaper that he had added sugar to the raw grape juice. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but he also admitted to having added extra tartaric acid (which occurs naturally in wine) to the same vintage.

Such a combination is illegal under EU regulations, since it radically alters the character and quality of the wine. It would be possible, using water, sugar and tartaric acid, to manufacture wine without grapes.

Mr Porcheret and the head of the Hospices de Beaunes, Antoine Jacquet, have confirmed the facts but denied any wrong-doing. They claim that, since the sugar and acid were added at different stages, they did not infringe the rules.

Not everyone agrees with this interpretation, but the institute which polices Appellation Controlee wines in France says that it does not intend to take any action.

The events in Burgundy and Bordeaux certainly deal a serious blow to the French claim to superiority over New World wine producers.

The claim is rooted in the French concept that the best wine "occurs", it cannot be manufactured. In other words, the best wines are produced, skilfully but also mysteriously, from a particular location and particular soil - terroir. They cannot be processed and blended to achieve a desired level of quality and taste, like some high-priced American or Australian wines.

Some foreign - and French - wine writers have been protesting for several years about the almost mystical French approach. Now it is being betrayed by the lax controls of the country's wine authorities.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview