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Icy cold bubbles for the New Year

We know that champagne growers are (rightly) proud of their sparkling wine. Nothing gets their hackles up more than when some “fizz” is produced from a region other than Champagne, or in a different way. After all, it’s with good reason that they got the name Champagne covered by a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). Aldi came up with a festive novelty in 2012: the supermarket chain started marketing a frozen sorbet containing 12% real Champagne. The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne immediately raised court action to challenge this in the German courts. Aldi was alleged to be profiting from the good reputation of the Champagne name for its product.

A few years on and the Court of Justice has had its say: can the Comité object to the use of name “Champagner Sorbet” when the product actually contains Champagne that complies fully with the PDO requirements? The Court of Justice had indicated that the use of a PDO in this way virtually amounts to exploiting the reputation of a PDO if the taste caused by the Champagne is not an essential feature of the product (in this case the frozen sorbet). In other words, the product has to taste clearly of Champagne to be able to be called Champagne Sorbet. It is up to the national court to determine this on the basis of the evidence produced. Maybe time for a tasting session in court then? If the product really does taste of Champagne, then using the Champagne PDO is not an abuse, imitation, suggestion or deception, things that holders of a PDO could theoretically object to. And is it important that the product contains ‘just’ 12% Champagne? The Court of Justice held that the quantity used was an important factor, but not a decisive one. Assessment must be on a product-by-product basis and cannot therefore be tied in to a specific percentage. Now the national court will have to resolve the impasse on the basis of these criteria. I’d be interested to find out if Aldi still has a carton of the sorbet left over that’s not past its sell-by date!

Sarah Arayess, lawyer Health, Beauty & Food law

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