Sat 12 Jan 2008
The French used to jeer at Americans for the health warnings required on the back labels of American wines and wines imported from other countries. “Zut alors,” they would sneer, “we are adults. We know how to drink wine. It is part of our French culture and heritage. You sissy American worry-warts!”
But ha-ha to you, Pierre, now the French, who are undergoing a national turmoil of political correctness — packages of snack foods in France carry directives to eat more fruit and vegetables — are seeing mandatory warning labels on the back labels of their wines.
Worse, though, far worse — and thanks to the vigilant Tom Wark at Fermentation for pointing this out last Thursday and providing links — is that a county court in Paris recently ruled that a story in the newspaper Le Parisien about Champagne, an editorial piece (not a paid advertisement) that offered recommendations, prices and details about the champagne houses, amounted to a form of advertising. The court said — I’m quoting a story by Oliver Styles on decanter.com for Jan. 10 — that the article “was intended to promote sales of alcoholic beverages in exercising a psychological effect on the reader that incited him or her to buy alcohol.”
A spokesman for the French National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction added, “Any communication in favour of an alcoholic drink, such as a series of articles in favour of Champagne, constitutes advertising and is therefore subject to the public health code.”
The implications of this move on freedom of the press are horrendous. Will newspaper articles about the drug industry and specific medicines have to carry long sidebars about proper dosage and possible side-effects? Will newspaper stories about the automobile industry be required to state: “Buckle Up for Safety: It’s the Law”? Must a piece about the merger of fast-food chains include a box with a black border that describes the dangers of trans-fats and childhood obesity?
And think about this. When you’re served a bottle of wine in a restaurant, the waiter shows you the front of the bottle but not the back. Are we entering a situation in which waiters will be required to display the front label — “Sir, Chateau Le Chien Perdu 2004” — and then the back label — “And, the obligatory health warning, as authorized by Ordinance 2451.” Or the waiter dribbles a splash in your glass for you to evaluate, leans down and whispers confidentially, “Sir, be sure when you leave the restaurant not to operate any heavy machinery. Fork lifts, drill-presses, you know.” Or perhaps wine lists themselves will have to carry health warnings at the bottom of every page.
And then there are wine blogs. Oh, yes, do you think we will be exempt?
In order to forestall that eventuality — because all things are possible in this world — I will go ahead and provide the warning now:
The BiggerThanYourHead Warning Label
1. This blog may incite you to purchase and drink wine, and that wine may taste to good you, leading you to purchase another bottle.
2. The wine that this blog incites you to purchase may match the food in your lunch or dinner so perfectly that you will be transported to a state of complete satisfaction.
3. This blog may inspire you to seek out many different styles and types of wines, leading you to expand your awareness, knowledge and pleasure.
4. Since you’re an adult and already know that drinking too much wine or other alcoholic beverages may result in temporary impairment or, in the case of desperately prolonged consumption, permanent health problems, this blog expects you to drink moderately, to behave yourself and not act like a freakin’ maniac and bring harm to yourself and others.