Goodbye cheap Bordeaux, hello Vin de Pays de l'Atlantique. One of France's newest wines faced its acid test this week when presented to experts, supermarket retailers, restaurants and journalists in Paris for the first time.
The umbrella label Atlantic was created by government decree on October 18, 2006, as part of wider efforts to help France's wine industry restructure and counter competition from the likes of California, Australia, Chile and South Africa.
While theoretically covering a geographic area much larger than Bordeaux, the new standard basically allows vineyards in France's most exclusive wine basin to use new techniques - such as adding wood chippings - to produce cheap, consistent tipple with a part of their production.
The techniques are still banned under Bordeaux's strict appellation d'origine controlee (AOC) wine-making rules, noted Pierre Cambar, head of the Vins d'Aquitaine authority, which took the initiative in the midst of the sector's crisis in 2005.
The idea was to ask why shouldn't Bordeaux and its region position itself on the market for vins de pays, or wines which are flexible, well-rounded, easy to drink and which are characterized mainly by their grape sort, Cambar said.
The new wines are not allowed to distinguish themselves by chateau, or even to use that term, and instead have evocative names such as Atlantide and Pink Ocean and, like their New World rivals, emphasize the grape used, such as Merlot.
Even the term Vin de Pays de l'Atlantique is likely to be confined to the small print, if displayed at all, because it is a term still being contested by the European Commission.
Bordeaux was one of the few regions in France...which did not have the possibility to produce vins de pays. It was deemed a region exclusively of appellation d'origin controllee...we decided to get rid of this restriction, Cambar said.
The region's hope is that more and more producers will adopt the standard, creating a new segment of Bordeaux wines at the bottom of the price triangle.
In future we should not see Bordeaux or Bordeaux Superieur in the same range. The AOC's should start where the vins de pays Atlantique stop, that is above 2 to 3 euros, he said.
The wines - 67 reds, 22 roses and 15 whites - presented on Tuesday represent the product of the first 2006 harvest.
In total, 78 vineyards signed up to the initiative in the first year, producing around 40,000 hectoliters of wine.
That is less than 1 percent of Bordeaux's total production and is tiny compared with France's Languedoc region where basic vins de pays represent around 60 percent of output.
Cambar said the jury was out on how big production will be in year two, the grapes for which are being picked now.
There is certainly more interest, which could point towards a rise. On the other hand, it's a small harvest overall, which means producers will have to make a trade off between what they keep for AOC and what they have for vins de pays ... If we get 50 to 60,000 hectoliters I would be happy, he said.