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France surrenders

So what's new? This time it's about wine. From The Times:

After long scorning the international appetite for “vulgar” wine, France joined the fray yesterday and allowed growers to make and market their product in the fruity fashion of the New World.

Wood chips, added tannin and other “foreign” techniques will be tolerated in a new category of mid-quality wine that will be defined by grape variety rather than origin.

In a heresy for traditionalists this means, for example, that you may grow gewurtztramminer, the classic Alsace white, anywhere in France and sell it as gewurtztramminer in the new Wine of France category.

Under the law the main label on a bottle will identify the wine as merlot, cabernet, grenache, chardonnay or other variety, as well as mentioning its vintage.

President Sarkozy and his Cabinet approved the measures as part of a five-year plan to win back market share from the all-conquering Californian and southern hemisphere wines. With its antiquated classification and concentration on the mystique of le terroir — the soil and traditions of the vineyard — France has lost out in the past 15 years as world consumption has risen.

The New World has won drinkers over with what the French regard as simple, standardised fruit-forward wines with brand names. Supermarket shoppers prefer labels with Australian marsupials to Appellation d'origine contrôlée from obscure villages with six syllables. “French wine is complicated and often little understood,” the Agriculture Ministry said.

While it might raise some purist eyebrows the scheme has caused little offence. “I have faith in the savoir faire of French winemakers,” said Jean Claude Ruet, chief sommelier at the Paris Ritz hotel. “We will not fall as low as the Americans, who make vin rosé that is sugary and fizzy like soda.”

[...]

Sections of the French industry have already been adopting New World methods to fight back. The Languedoc region of the Mediterranean has been particularly successful, importing New World vintners and playing up grape varieties.

Some have gone as far as inventing “critter labels” to compete with Australia's Yellow Tail and assorted other parrots and wallabies. These include Rhôning Stones and Bois-Moi (Drink Me). A French Languedoc wine sold 1.3 million bottles to Australia last year under the brand of Arrogant Frog.

Unperturbed, The Times leader notes that this is not the first time the French have "tiptoed into the world of hybrids":

Jacques Chirac was famously half president, half sneer. Johnny Halliday is half rock star, half laughing stock. The world's tastes are evolving in response to our pick-and-mix culture. For instance, one of today's most fashionable dog breeds is the labradoodle; half labrador, half poodle. Why cannot France's new range of wines become the labradoodle of viniculture? “Wine”, as Benjamin Franklin astutely spotted, “is constant proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

I'll drink to that. The Irish way, perhaps: half Guinness, half whiskey and half cut.