Regular visitors here will notice that there is no picture of Cristalino. Welcome to the wonderful world of American jurisprudence and the foolishness of the wine business.
In August, a federal district court in Minneapolis ruled that Cristalino, which is a much beloved $7 Spanish sparkling wine, infringed on the trademark of Cristal, a Champagne that costs about $200 a bottle and is favored by people who drive Escalades. Or, as the attorneys for Champagne Louis Roederer, the French luxury brand that owns Cristal, wrote: “The Defendants ? use of CRISTALINO on their sparkling wine product is an illegitimate brand extension that trades on the reputation and image of the famous mark, CRISTAL. Consumers likely believe that CRISTALINO sparkling wine is associated with, sponsored by, or is in some way connected with the maker of the prestige champagne CRISTAL.”
Sigh. And people wonder why the Wine Curmudgeon is so cranky. The Champagne business has been in tatters since the recession started, and Roederer decided to spend money on this lawsuit? The judge, in deciding the case, wrote that there was evidence that consumers could be confused, and if my reading of the law is correct, that was enough to decide in Roederer’s favor. It didn’t matter whether Cristal lost sales to Cristalino (which was unclear). Cristalino had to redesign and re-label its bottle, which is now white and includes a disclaimer that says it isn’t affiliated with Roederer or Cristal.
So this is what I’m going to do: Never drink a bottle of Cristal (which isn’t a problem, since I can’t afford it). Never, after this moment, write about or review a Roederer product, which include Roederer and Scharffenberger sparkling wines in California, a half a dozen or so French still wine brands, and the Portuguese Ramos Pinto label. And, of course, welcome Cristalino (purchased) into the 2011 $10 Hall of Fame, because it offers everything Cristal doesn’t — quality and value. And, yes, it would quite nice at Thanksgiving.
? Champagne sales slump: I suppose this isn't news to any of us who have been paying attention, but someone did feel the need to write a report. Champagne sales — that is, sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France — fared worse during the recession than the rest of the sparkling wine business. Champagne sales fell by 3.6 percent in 2009, which is an amazing figure, and more than twice as much as non-Champagne sales fell. Until, of course, one realizes that it's almost impossible to buy a bottle of Champagne for less than $20, while there are dozens of quality options that aren't Champagne, such as Spanish cava, Italian bubblies, and U.S. brands like Domaine Ste. Michelle for much less than $20.
? The quality of restaurant wine: Tom Johnson at Louisville Juice picked up this nugget (and how does he always find these things?). A CNN blogger who doesn't drink wine decided to sample a pinot grigio from the wine list at a national Italian chain. The result was predictable. "It tasted like rubbing alcohol turned bad." Which, as regular visitors here know, is one of the Wine Curmudgeon's common complaints about poorly made Italian pinot grigio. Reporting this item gives me the chance to do three of my favorite things — rail against the quality of restaurant wine lists; lament that too many people are introduced to wine through poor quality restaurant wine lists; and note something that puts a TV journalist in a less than complimentary light (once a newspaperman, always a newspaperman).
? Gallo pinot fraud: Gina Gallo, the heir to the empire, says the 2009 Pinotgate scandal, in which E&J Gallo's Red Bicyclette label sold some 1.5 million cases of fake pinot noir from the Languedoc in southern France, was a disaster. "As a company we want to be squeaky clean, and we are scrupulous in declaring alcohol levels and other matters, so of course it was an embarrassment to us," she told Decanter magazine. This is, as far as I can tell, the first time an important Gallo official has commented on the scandal, which included criminal prosecutions and convictions in France.
Keep four things in mind when you shop for sparkling wine.
? Please, please try something other than the same old French labels like Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte. Quality bubbly is made in most of the world’s great wine regions. Yes, it doesn’t taste like Champagne, but it’s not supposed to.
? Only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be called champagne, thanks to a 2005 trade agreement (though some California brands like Korbel are grandfathered in). But if the label says methode champenoise or m thode traditionelle, it was made in the Champagne style. The other production technique, called charmat, generally produces less bubbly, sweeter wines. Most Italian sparkling wine is made in the charmat style
? Vintage isn’t especially important. NV on the label stands for non-vintage ?- that is, the grapes used to make the wine come from different harvests instead of just one. It ?s a common practice, even for the most expensive brands, to ensure quality.
? Most bubbly sold in the U.S. says either brut or extra-dry. Brut means the wine is dry, while extra-dry means it ?s sweeter than brut. Rarer are wines labeled sec, which is more sweet than extra-dry, and doux, which is dessert-style champagne.