France set to harvest its grapes of wrath

Wine scandal: Head of quality control says some vintages are 'undrinkab le' and crops are being doctored

MARY DEJEVSKY

Paris

Wine buffs may now have a less ideological reason for boycotting French wine than opposition to France's nuclear tests: some of it, apparently, is just plain bad - and that includes wine with the respected AC label, Appellation d'Origine Controlee.

The head of the national institute which monitors wine quality throughout France, Alain Berger, says AC wine is "sometimes undrinkable" and "occasionally scandalously bad". As well as criticising the inconsistency in the quality of such wines, Mr Berger singles out particular sins, such as the over-watering of vines and the addition of sugar to increase the alcohol content which, he says, producers have adopted to try to meet market demands.

Mr Berger's body, the National Institute of Appellations of Origin, is considering tasting the wine more systematically and possibly adding an extra national mark of approval. Mr Berger was responding to criticism made earlier this month in the French consumer magazine Que Choisir.

At present, the institute conducts laboratory tests on samples and also checks that the wine comes from the relevant area. These tests, however, are now deemed insufficiently rigorous to guarantee the quality of the wine. From next year's harvest (1996), they are to be intensified.

Until now, the AC designation has been relied upon by millions of wine drinkers, especially the new generation of buyers outside France, who regard it as a mark of reliable quality for a decent price. While wine specialists might demur, it appeared to offer something better than cheap "plonk", which was none the less more affordable than the grands crus.

To French wine drinkers, questions about the value of the AC will probably be less shocking. French wine-buying practices are very different from those of north Europeans. Supermarket shopping for wine has never caught on in the same way as it has in Britain and the selection and quality in French supermarkets often seems haphazard. Many French families still buy their wine direct from vineyards or specialist suppliers, and rely upon them to provide the quality they expect. They are happy to buy a wine with the lowly vin de table designation if it comes well recommended or they can taste it first. Some quality wine-growers had eschewed the AC system, preferring to rely on their good name alone.

For many French wine producers and exporters, however, the official querying of the AC's validity will come as an additional blow, following the likely damage of the north European and Australasian consumer boycott over France's nuclear tests. It will be especially hard because the AC was seen as a highly successful system.

As if to confirm one of the consumer magazine's criticisms, it became known this week that the same consumer standards body which originally queried the value of the AC has started an inquiry into this year's irrigation practices in the prestige wine-growing region of Chateauneuf du Pape, near Orange, in the south.

It is investigating reports that some vineyards were watered after 31 July, the date after which vines in the region are supposed to be left to the tender mercies of nature. Late watering is said to make the grape swell, so increasing the quantity of the wine, while reducing its quality.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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: Customer Accounts Executive

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

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Why the cost of parenting has become so expensive

Today's pre-school child costs £35,000, according to Aviva. And that's but the tip of an iceberg, says DJ Taylor
Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US