The case of the fraudulent Pinot Noir sale in France shows what can happen when wine essentially lacks varietal identification.
A French firm sold millions of bottles of "Pinot Noir" to Gallo, for its popular Red Bicyclette label, yet the Pinot was cut with cheaper Merlot and Syrah.
The sellers apparently knew exactly what they were doing and what they could get away with. The buyers apparently couldn't tell the wine they were buying wasn't Pinot, which isn't entirely surprising: Cheap wine made from overcropped vines tastes bland (and often worse) and lacks varietal character, which essentially means that one can bottle, label and sell wine and call it whatever you want if no one can tell the difference.
Quality-control issues are usually more evident in higher-priced wines. Some wines simply should never be bottled and released (but rather sold in bulk, where they can get lost in some supersize blend of innocuous wine); some wines are merely OK, but mispriced; poor-quality, overpriced wines can be a death sentence for small wineries attempting to enter the high-end market.
Fraud, of course, is different than slapdash quality control. Red Bicyclette's success is tied as much to price as quality. Misjudging a low-end bulk wine is far different than when a vintner misjudges the quality of his or her own product, positioning it as a serious wine. That's often a poor business decision.
Steve Barber — Clayton, CA. — February 23, 2010 2:14pm ET
Brian Hobbs — Chattanooga,Tennesse,United States — March 1, 2010 9:42am ET
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