You may not remember this story, so let’s take a trip down memory lane:
Several years ago, a scandal erupted in the wine world when it was discovered that two American companies—Gallo and Constellation—had been selling Merlot and Syrah as Pinot Noir. The grapes in question were purchased from brokers in the South of France. In total, 18.5 million bottles of fake Pinot Noir had been sold under seven different labels: Red Bicyclette, Redwood Creek, Turning Leaf, Farallon, Rex Goliath, Talus and Robert Mondavi Woodbridge.
The controversy centered around Gallo. Between 2006 and 2008, much of the Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir sold in this country actually contained cheaper grape varieties (remember that this occurred at the height of the post-Sideways craze, and there was a huge demand for Pinot Noir at the time). Many people failed to understand how the world’s largest wine company—in business since 1933, guardians of a long family legacy, masters of winemaking technology—had been unable to tell the difference between Pinot Noir and Syrah.
Twelve wine brokers were tried and imprisoned in France, and the U.S. government plans on pursuing fraud charges against Gallo and Constellation. For the time being, a California judge has awarded $2.1 million in a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of consumers. Individuals with proof of purchase may collect up to $21, while those without documentation will be limited to an award of $3.50 (we all keep five year-old wine receipts, don’t we?).
There’s a clear and obvious difference between Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah. I can tell the difference, and I believe that most consumers also can do so. Gallo and Constellation, however, have said there was “no way to determine scientifically if the wine did or did not contain the required amount of Pinot Noir.”