Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Sounds of a Fine Whine

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Sounds of a Fine Whine

Article excerpt

For citing connoisseur who says Beaujo is plonk, a French magazine is forced to walk the plank

The French establishment, which is so phlegmatic about Saddam Hussein, has found a cause to go ballistic over: criticism of its Beaujolais Nouveau.

For decades, the arrival of each Beaujolais vintage touched off a global sales frenzy. But last year winemakers were stuck with so much unsold Nouveau they were forced to turn 2.6 million gallons -- the equivalent of 13 million bottles -- into vinegar and industrial alcohol. Lyon Mag, a struggling magazine located just down the road from the Beaujolais region, asked France's leading wine expert, FranCois Mauss, why that was.

The reason is simple, replied M. Mauss: This Beaujolais Nouveau is "vin de merde." Pardon our French, but that translates into, well, let's just say it rhymes with what an oenophile does at a tasting: spit.

Quel scandale! Beaujolais makers sued and an indignant judge socked Lyon Mag with fines totaling 350,000 euros -- almost $375,000 -- enough, its editor says, to put the magazine out of business. The judge fumed that the critic and magazine had gone "beyond the acceptable exercise of social criticism, gravely abusing freedom of expression." Lyon Mag called the verdict "unreasonable and incomprehensible." Unreasonable? Sure. But incomprehensible? Hardly. The sad fact is, Lyon Mag is one of many news outlets around the world threatened by the "obligation of press objectivity" doctrine first enshrined in France's 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and now appearing as a faux freedom everywhere from Venezuela's constitution to the "veggie libel" laws of 13 U. …

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