Lead makes vintage of a different mettle

THE intoxicating potential of vintage wine has reached a new high with the discovery of lead levels in Chateauneuf-du-Pape up to 100 times greater than drinking water.

Researchers have found two organic-lead poisons in one of France's greatest wines. The compounds are far more toxic than ordinary lead and leaded petrol is to blame, according to scientists.

In a survey of Chateauneuf- du-Pape from a vineyard near the the A7 and A9 auto- routes, Belgian and French scientists detected the highest levels of lead in wine bottled before the introduction of lead-free petrol in the 1980s.

Richard Lobinski, a chemist at the University of Antwerp and one of the authors of the study, said it was unlikely that drinking moderate amounts of the worst vintage - 1978 - would lead to lead poisoning.

'I haven't stopped drinking Chateauneuf-du-Pape since I found these results,' he said yesterday.

Lead poisoning from drinking was known in the Middle Ages, when it was known as Saturnism.

'Maybe you need to drink this wine for 20 years and maybe you'll develop some of the symptoms that people had in medieval times,' Dr Lobinski said. 'Certainly, if you drink 10 bottles, the first effects will be those of alcohol, not organo-lead.'