Top 10 wine scandals17th August, 2011 by Rupert Millar
When is Pinot Noir not Pinot Noir?
When it’s called Red Bicyclette and comes from the Languedoc, apparently.
In 2010 Gallo’s French Pinot Noir was, embarrassingly, proved to be anything but.
Capitalising on the “Pinot effect” of the 2004 film Sideways, Gallo began marketing Red Bicyclette made from grapes sourced and bottled in France by the Sieur d’Arques co-operative to placate the US market, which seemingly couldn’t get enough of the stuff.
From January 2006 to March 2008, 18 million bottles were sold in the US and no one guessed that anything was up.
In fact it was the French authorities that spotted the deception, when they realised that Red Bicyclette made use of a third more Pinot Noir than was produced in the whole of the Languedoc.
Instead it was found that most of the grapes and resulting wine were Merlot and Syrah, with only a thin veil of Pinot for appearance’s sake.
Naturally questions were asked of Gallo’s control board. Could they not smell it wasn’t Pinot? Didn’t the unnaturally deep colour give it away? Apparently not.
The funny thing was, as scandals go it might as well never have happened, as no one appeared to care very much.
The French thought it frightfully amusing and themselves very clever for having hoodwinked the gullible Americans (if indeed they had been hoodwinked) and consumers were so apathetic it rather took the fun out of the whole affair.
Nevertheless, having netted €7m from the wheeze, the growers and members of Sieur d’Arques were given hefty fines and the odd jail sentence to boot.