Yesterday, that image took a dent when it emerged that Spanish police had smashed a fraud operation involving the export of an estimated one million bottles of fake Rioja into Britain.
Rather than careful nurturing on the sun-kissed slopes of the Sierra de la Demanda, the wine was the product of blending, bottling and fake labelling 300 miles to the south in a counterfeiting factory, said Spanish investigators.
Not that anyone seemed to notice. The wine, labelled Don Marino IV, was drinkable stuff and popular with shoppers at its two main outlets, the supermarket chain Budgens and the P&O ferry line. The bogus Rioja was sold without any complaint for up to two years, according to the Spanish, and the case only came to light because the wine appeared to be unfeasibly cheap. "It wasn't bad wine, but it certainly wasn't Rioja," a police spokesman said.
They began investigating earlier this year after genuine exporters became suspicious that the wine was being sold at an impossibly low price. When police raided the cellar, in the Spanish region of La Mancha, they found 300,000 counterfeit labels, the spokesman said. British police have seized 30,000 bottles of the wine over the past two weeks, he added.
Three Spaniards and one Briton, named as Kevin Moore, have been charged with fraud after being detained for questioning in Spain on Thursday.
The Rioja scandal comes as experts revealed that one of the world's most thoroughbred grapes, the Chardonnay, is descended from a grape deemed so unutterably incapable of producing a good wine that it has been banned by the French.
The lowly Gouais blanc grape was subject to the equivalent of DNA testing by researchers in France and the United States. They found that Gouais blanc was one parent of 16 different wine grapes; the other parent was Pinot noir, described in the journal Science as "the very epitome of a fine Burgundy". Their offspring include Melon, which is used in wines made in the Muscadet region, and Aligote, the second great wine grape of Burgundy.Reuse content