Magic of 'appellation controlee' evaporates

ANTHONY ROSE

Wine Correspondent

Do you normally look for the magic words Appellation Controlee when buying your French wine as a guide to its quality and authenticity?

If so, think again. According to the results of a blind tasting in November's Que Choisir, France's answer to Which?, a panel of experts found themselves unable to distinguish their burgundies from their California chardonnays; their clarets from their New World cabernet sauvignons.

Putting his head on the block, as it were, Michel Bettane, one of France's leading wine writers, said the fact is that today, the words Appellation d'Origine Controlee are a guide neither to the quality nor authenticity of what you will find in the bottle.

You could hear the shock- waves reverberating from Paris to Papeete.

Developed at the turn of the century as a way of protecting French producers from imitation and fraud, the Appellation Controlee system is an institution in France and widely respected beyond its shores as the European model for designating and controlling regional names. Covering vast regions such as Bordeaux as well as obscure plots of rural vineyard, the system is as sacrosanct as Notre- Dame.

But not to Que Choisir, which complained that "too many growers prefer money over authenticity, as a result of which the system no longer protects the consumer".

There is little doubt that excessive yields and the over-extension of classic vineyard districts such as Chablis and Chateauneuf du Pape have contributed to the declining quality of French AC wines.

Equally, question marks arise over the validity of appellations such as Chatillon-en-Diois or Cotes du Ventoux, which appear to owe more to vested interests and political lobbying than the inherent quality of the vineyards.

And at approval tastings for AC status, unspoken economic pressures to pass wines destined for export as Appellation Controlee can be strong.

If the system started as a way of safeguarding traditions and reputations, there is increasing concern within the industry that bending the rules has undermined the quality and image needed to make AC wines more competitive.

In an unprecedented move, the entire board of the National Institute of Appellations (INAO), the system's controlling body, came to London in February this year to see how French wines could compete with the likes of New World chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon without having to change the concept on which appellation is based, namely French wine's sense of place.

In a recent communique, Alain Berger, director of the INAO admitted that there are wines which pass the Appellation Controlee test but which do not deserve AC status. With this in mind, Mr Berger has promised to set up more tests and better scrutiny.

The industry also acknowledges that further inroads need to be made on permitted yield levels and that the number of appellations (more than 400) should be cut back if the French wine industry is to tackle the consumer- friendly wines of the New World.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions