Investigators found millions of bottles of budget-price Spanish rose has been passed off as French vintages by wine producers and distributors.
France’s consumer fraud agency confirmed the malpractice has been going on for years among restaurants and hotels from as early as 2015.
Spanish rose sold in bulk at the time for just 34 euro cents ($0.40) a litre compared with 75 to 90 cents for French rose.
Officials estimated 70,000 hectolitres — the equivalent of 10 million bottles — of Spanish rose were falsely labelled as French vintages in 2016 and 2017.
‘We were alerted to the ‘Frenchification’ of Spanish wine at the end of 2015,’ the agency’s Alexandre Chevallier told Le Parisien.
‘So we launched an inquiry at all levels, from producers to importers to restaurants and distributors,’ he said.
They found 743 establishments guilty of trying to present foreign wine as French.
Some restaurants blatantly misled customers, drawing labels of fake ‘French-sounding’ castles or telling drinkers it was French when selling wine by the glass.
Others were more subtle, putting ‘Produced in France’ on the front label but ‘European Community wine’ on the back.
Some embellished bottles with national symbols like the heraldic lily or a ribbon in the blue, white and red of the French tricolour flag.
Producers could face fraud lawsuits that carry penalties of up to two years in prison and 300,000 euros in fines.
But there are longstanding tensions French winegrowers who accuse their Spanish rivals of unfair competition.
In recent years, French protests have blocked Spanish trucks from bringing their wine into the country, with demonstrators emptying their loads onto highways.
Production surpluses in Spain have pushed down prices there, making the country’s wines a better deal for consumers.
French distributors have spotted an opportunity to substitute products.
‘It’s a question of price,’ Herault winegrower Jerome Despey told AFP.
‘We need to keep up the pressure with these inspections so this kind of thing can’t happen again.’
Despey urged the government to impose stricter labelling rules.
He said the two countries’ agriculture ministers met in Paris last summer to try to end the conflict, leading to a series of measures aimed at limiting price volatility.
Price increases across Europe following weather-related grape harvest shortfalls last year have also helped ease tensions.
Delphine Geny-Stephann, France’s junior economy minister, said she had asked the fraud agency ‘to continue carrying out regular inspections in the sector.’