As many as 10 million bottles worth of Spanish wine may have been passed off as French wine, following an investigation from a French government body.
Le Parisien reports that a government organization for consumer affairs and fraud control investigated various wine importers and distributors in France in 2016 and 2017, unearthing issues ranging from overly vague wine labels to outright fraud. The French outlet suggests that it was primarily rosé wines being fraudulently distributed.
All the issues centered around the francisation of non-French wines — that is, the “Frenchification” of foreign wines. Some common strategies used to mislead customers reportedly included the use of ambiguous phrases like “bottled in France” (when wine was imported from elsewhere), the use of labels featuring French icons, evoking the French flag or with images like the fleur de lys. Some bottles also featured imagery of French chateaus to subtly suggest the wine was from France.
Some labels did note the correct country of origin, but in an obscure place on a bottle or box that could easily go unnoticed. Wines sold in France must indicate the country of origin.
Investigators also found that some stores were placing wines in sections indicating that they were from France, when they were not, although the report concedes that this was likely accidental in some cases.
The official report for the investigation gives a strong hint as to why the French government poured so much effort into uncovering everything from fraudulent mislabeling to inadvertent poor placement of wine bottles on shelves: geographically-protected French wine varieties have been facing stiff competition from Spanish wines, particularly among entry-level wines. While the Spanish wines being passed off as French may not be inherently inferior to French equivalents, French wine often enjoys a certain cultural clout, hence the government’s interest in making sure the French and non-French status of respective wines is very clear. French rosé is also substantially more expensive on a per-liter basis.
Overall, 25 charges have been laid against various distributors for fraud-adjacent issues: those will head to the courts, where penalties can include 300,000 Euros in fines or two years in prison.