“When that limey writer Tim Atkin said my S.O.S. Winemaker’s Red Blend was the ‘Coca Cola of wine’ I could’a hugged the guy. He probably thought he was bein’ critical, but who wouldn’t want to be compared to the world’s most popular beverage? I’ve stickered every bottle with his quote – or actually the words – ‘just like Coke’ – and it’s really helped sales”. Danny Makeabiggabuck was in typically irrepressible style during his trip to London last week – despite the involuntary nature of his visit. Unfortunately, as he acknowledges, many of those sales were in the UK, which is what led to Mr Makeabiggabuck appearing in court last week. Under European law 56932(a) which was ratified in July 2015, wines with sugar levels of over 4g/litre have to be clearly labeled as “ demi-sec”- “semi-dry”; “Moelleux” – “medium-sweet”; or “doux” – “sweet”. A clear limit of 4g/litre was also placed on additional sweetness in red wine.
The law was introduced following pressure from European producers and the OIV in response to the phenomenal international success of a wide range of “red blends” from North and South America. Wines such as Gallo’s Apothic, Menage a Trois, Cupcake, 14 Hands and Trapiche’s Extravaganza which all have sugar levels of 6-17g/litre took the UK and Germany in particular by storm in 2015, stealing market share from traditional dry wines from France, Italy and Spain.
Makeabiggabuck’s S.O.S. Molly was one of the first releases from his recently-launched Mary Poppins wine company. Its name, as he happily admits, stands for “Spoonful of Sugar”, but that information doesn’t actually appear on the label. “We don’ wanna make a big thing about the sweetness” he says, “besides, for most of our US customers, despite the 12g of sugar, S.O.S. ain’t sweet. Actually there’s prob’ly less sugar in that wine than in these Supa-Spicy Potato Chips” he pointed out before stuffing a handful of the crisps into his capacious mouth.
UK sales of S.O.S. had already passed the quarter of a million point when the UK Wine Standards Board moved to clamp down on the product on the grounds a) that it had 12g/litre of sweetness; b) that this had been added artificially (in the form or “rectified grape must” and c) in any case, none of the required terms appeared on the label.
The prosecution case was made by Johnson Broadspurkinson a QC with a reputation for his skill in court – and the quality of the wines served at his dinner table. Addressing the defendant who was acting for himself, and with his lip curled in magnificent distaste, the pillar of the British legal system adjusted his wig and began “Mr Makeabiggabuck… you are, I believe, an Am…eh…ri..can?” It was clear that this was not an adjective he would like to have had applied to himself. Makeabiggabuck who was struggling to avoid laughing at the floor-mop on the black-gowned Englishman’s head responded brightly. “Too right!”
“Well, I have to tell you, that on this side of what I believe you like to call ‘the pond’” the prosecutor looked even more than usually pleased with himself, “we do things differently. We have different… stan…dards when it comes to what we care to… in…gest”. When Makeabiggabuck looked confused at this last term, Broadspurkinson explained: “put inside our bodies. What we do not like is drinking vile, con…coc…ted, tricked-up sweet beverages like this – especially when they deliberately set out to fool people who expect them to taste dry”.
“With respect, your QC-ship, I think you’re a stuck up snob”, the American replied, to the horror of the judge, another gloomy mop-wearer. “Millions of peeps love my wines. I bet that ain’t true of some of the stuff you and your friends like to in…gest when you’ve gotten tired of shooting’ foxes or gettin’ spanked or whatever else you guys enjoy doin’ when you get off work.”
After calls for order in court and threats of charges of contempt, the judge (who was actually rather enjoying seeing his old schoolfriend Buffy getting a bit of a hard time from a chap wearing check trousers) allowed the American to continue.
“So, Mr Prosecutor, I’m gonna ask you a question. D’you drink Champagne?”.
“I certainly do”, said Broadspurkinson, beaming at the jury. “I’m what you might call a very faithful friend of the Widow”.
At this, he looked expectantly at the jury as if in the hope of a laugh. Instead, he received blank stares, and more than one pitying glance from an old lady who was crocheting a pair of bootees for her grandson.
“Well”, replied Makeabiggabuck who was a lot better informed than some people might expect.”Those Champagnes are pretty tricked up and con…cocted too. I’d guess they’d have 10-12g/litre of added sweetness. Just like my wine”.
“But I only drink dry Champagne” retorted Broadspurkinson in a tone that would have daunted many a lesser adversary.
“Is that right?”, fairly cackled the American. “Actually, if a Champagne says ‘Dry’ or ‘Extra-Dry’ on the label it’s a lot more concocted or tricked up, or let’s be honest, sweeter, than any Californian sweet red. But I guess your class system says that fooling’ around with sweetness is simply dandy for your posh Cham..Pagne” . This last word was uttered with the best mock English public-school accent the native New Yorker could manage. “But not for wines ordinary folks drink”.
Broadspurkinson looked discomfited, but the defendant was evidently on a roll. “So what about port? You drink any of that vintage shit?”
“Yes, said Broadspurkinson cautiously, I have a fair few cases of Dow and Taylors in my cellar.”
“So, I guess you’d admit they’re pretty sweet, your Ports?”
“Yes, that is their style…”
“They’re about eight times sweeter than my wine, or your Brooot Champagne, if you’re in’erested. But they’re also pretty damn alcoholic, right?”
“I suppose so…”
“And hugely tricked-up, I’d say, when you think about how they’re made, with all that added alcohol.”
The Englishman decided to say nothing.
“But I have a final point, your Stuck-Upship”. Makeabiggabuck paused. “You say my wines pretend to be dry. They do no such thing. My label talks about ‘jam-like, chocolatey, velvety’ flavours. That sound ‘dry’ to you? It’s just because you’re a wine snob that you think everyone approaches wine the way you do. D’you really suppose the average California White Zin drinker expects a pink wine to taste dry? Of course not. Well, the same’s true of red wine drinkers who’re used tp Piat d’Or and Yellow Tail. And there’s a hell of a lot of them!
“You know why I call my S.O.S. ‘Molly’? Cos it’s a lot easier for the average Brit or Yank to say than ‘Mwah Lur’ – as I think you guys pronounce M-O-E-L-L-E-U-X. And it’s just as meaningful”.
Despite all the clear evidence against him, the jury found Makeabiggabuck innocent. Several of them were reportedly seen in a nearby hostelry sharing a post-trial drink. History does not record precisely how much residual sugar there was in the contents of any of their glasses. Nor does it care.
The facts: as usual there are some solid facts behind my whimsy. So, while Danny Makeabiggabuck and his wine brands are products of my fevered imagination, it is 100% true that sweet red blends from Apothic, Menage a Trois etc are the fastest growing brands in the US. Apothic has just been launched in the UK and Germany. All of the figures regarding the sugar content of Champagnes and port (100g/l) are accurate. The EU law mentioned was an invention. For the moment.