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The EU’s highest court ruled that Champagne can also refer to “a taste attributable” to the sparkling wine.

Mike Pomranz
December 20, 2017

Geographical indications can be a source of surprising controversy in the food world. On the surface, the debate seems simple: If you call a wine a Gevrey-Chambertin, said vino should probably come from that part of Burgundy. But the slope can get slippery in a hurry. Should Greek yogurt actually have to come from Greece? (A real example!) Should a hamburger have to come from Hamburg?! (A silly one.) This isn’t to say things like Europe’s protected designation of origin system isn’t without its merits. Quite the contrary: Protecting authenticity has serious value. However, these examples do demonstrate that things aren’t always cut and dry. For instance, is “Champagne” strictly a region and sparkling wine or can it also be a flavor and descriptor? According to a recent European Union ruling, it can.

At issue was a product sold at the supermarket chain Aldi in Germany called “Champagne Sorbet” launched in 2012. Despite the fact that the sorbet contained 12 percent of the actual French bubbly, the lobbying group Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIPV) sought an injunction from a German court to prevent the sale of the icy dessert suggesting that it was attempting to take advantage of the prestige inherent within the name. After five years of back and forth with an injunction being approved and then reversed, the legal battle finally reached the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which today ruled in favor of Aldi—saying that Champagne Sorbet doesn’t infringe on the protected French designation.

In its decision, the ECJ focused in part of Champagne’s flavor, stating that the name could be used if a product has “as one of its essential characteristics, a taste attributable primarily to Champagne.” Specifically speaking to the inclusion of real Champagne in the sorbet, the court mentioned that this “is a significant but not, in itself, sufficient factor.” Meanwhile, the ruling stated that the use of the term Champagne in this case was simply meant “to claim openly a gustatory quality connected with it, which does not amount to misuse, imitation or evocation.”

Though Aldi’s Champagne Sorbet has since been discontinued, the decision still sets a precedent on how the term “Champagne” can be used in the European Union in the future. Or maybe Aldi will bring Champagne Sorbet back? Seems like a good a chance for them to rub it in.