Maybe now you'll drink Merlot

If you've ever picked up a bottle of Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir, there are some things you should know. First of all, it likely wasn't Pinot Noir at all. Secondly, you've been had by the French. Third, you partially can blame a movie.

12 French wine producers from the Langedoc region have been found guilty of pulling the old switcheroo. They labeled their local generic red wine as coveted Pinot Noir and shipped it off to the US. Gallo bought millions of bottles and sold it as
Red Bicyclette Pinot Noir. From the Marketplace Morning Report:

Stephen Beard: U.S. winery E&J Gallo fell victim to one of the biggest frauds in wine history. They thought they were buying Pinot Noir for their Red Bicyclette brand. In fact, it was an inferior and much cheaper blend of grapes.

A dozen French wine producers and traders received suspended jail sentences and hefty fines for the fraud. French customs officers with a nose for wine detected the scam.

That, and someone finally noticed that the volume sold as pinot noir from the Langedoc region exceeded the Pinot Noir output of the Langedoc region. Here in the States, the wine "experts" at Gallo didn't catch it. Neither did people reviewing the wine:

Well well...ruby red and what a beauty! Full body, 13% alch...black cherry, yes with hints of plum. Cinnamon on the back pallate...not a bad pinot for the price..but there is a definite "oakiness" in the after taste??

Yes, there is, because you aren't drinking Pinot Noir.

There are plenty of people in the American wine industry who would've caught this in a second. They probably don't work at Gallo. There are plenty of American wine drinkers who would've caught this in a second. They probably don't buy Pinot Noir from France for $6.99. An expensive grape being bottled and shipped across the ocean isn't going to be priced that low.

Finally, let's not forget the movie Sideways. One line in that film -- I'm not drinking any bleeping Merlot!! -- sent the price of Merlot plunging and jacked up the price of Pinot, for no good reason. Those French wine producers were probably thinking -- we'll sell them their precious Pinot and it won't be Pinot at all! Stupid Americans, they won't notice the difference....

Log in to post8 Comments

lol! that movies is still causing waves in the wine industry? I liked the movie but I'm not much of a wine person myself. I don't understand how the movie had that much impact on the industry.

Well, Matt, maybe I'm exaggerating the impact, but not by much. After Sideways came out, there was a distinct and sustained increase in the price of Pinot Noir. There are other reasons Pinot might fetch a higher price. It's a delicate grape to grow, but there's no doubt there was and may still be a "Pinot premium" that was prompted in large part by the film.

Sideways made quite the splash in the wine industry - take it from me. Pinot Noir has been all the rage for a while and quite frankly I think it's usually watery and not very impressive. I probably would have been pleasantly surprised by the Red Bicyclette! Very funny story.

You better not be serving any of that fake Pinot stuff come April! And no Merlot!

Just kidding. I probably wouldn't know the difference.

Oh, it doesn't take that much time to learn the difference. Honestly. Once you know what to look for, the colors and flavors give it away.

The movie did harm the image of Merlot. Unfortunately, I think people read too much into it in the film. The wines were just metaphors for various aspects of the characters. When the main character refuses to drink Merlot it's a metaphor about how he is afraid to give in to the demands and expectations of others.

the funny thing is that my wife came home with a bottle of this today, and she paid $10.

With Generous Support From...