Le Beast

POSTED ON 23/03/2009

You almost have to feel sorry for Le Beast, but not half as sorry as Le Beast must be feeling for itself. And not just because the other French beast, the Caveman and his mates, were routed by the English rugby team.

Is this Le Beast?Is this Le Beast?

Le Beast, a self-styled spokesperson for the consumer, recently announced that it's launching a campaign for a pound a bottle on duty. The idea is to reverse duty to 2000 levels ‘to bring about change via lobbying against unfair government policies and educate consumers via satire and parody’.

Le Beast, who also happens to be a French wine merchant, Clink! Wines Ltd (no vested interest there, then), seems to have done some effective lobbying work in France, not least over the absurd proposals to ban wine on the internet; proposals which have now been defeated by the French National Assembly along with the equally fatuous idea of making wine tastings at châteaux illegal (come to lovely Bordeaux, and while you’re at it, don’t even think about turning up at our château to taste the wine, ok?). Is this what the French need in their hour of crisis?

Few wine drinkers would argue that current duty rates are unfair. Last year, the government imposed a 17% increase in wine duty, including a hidden second duty increase in November that erased the much-hyped reduction in VAT. It gets worse. The Treasury is committed to a four-year, 2%-above-inflation ‘tax escalator’ as of this year's budget in April.

The trouble with Le Beast's campaign is twofold. First of all the wine trade is already active in seeking a freeze on duty in this year’s budget and an abolition of the proposals for the duty escalator. Secondly, Le Beast made its announcement just before the chief medical officer hogged the limelight by weighing in with his loony proposal to increase the price of wine to a minimum of 50p per unit.

Or this?Or this?

Hello-o. Do price rises deter binge drinkers? Do lower wine prices cause hooligans to rampage through the streets of every country town in France, Italy and Spain? I don’t think so. It’s about the culture and education, not higher wine prices, which penalize responsible wine drinkers.

Where does all this leave Le Beast?

The pound a bottle duty idea can hardly be unpopular with anyone who drinks wine, but is it a realistic goal and does it have the widespread support of the industry and consumers? I think not. The wine industry’s aim of seeing a freeze on the planned duty hikes and stopping the escalator is at least reasonable even if it doesn't stand a huge chance of success.

Scary or whatScary or what

You also have to wonder if it’s really such a great idea to hold a protest demonstration outside Westminster and Piccadilly, as Le Beast announced. Does duty on wine weigh in the injustice scales as heavily as the Iraq war or human rights abuses in Burma, Tibet etc.? Will the middle-class wine drinkers taking to the streets be wearing sans-culottes and waving the tricolore as they storm the Houses of Parliament? Will they need to when our very own latter-day Marie Antoinette, Gordon Brown, is at least saying: 'Let them drink wine'?

My wine of the week

2007 M3 Chardonnay, Shaw and Smith, Adelaide Hills

This chardonnay comes from Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith’s winery in the Adelaide Hills. It has a lovely nose, a mixture of smokiness, sweet hints of vanilla and a suggestion of the stirred less, a really pure quality of textured, restrained balanced richness in which lees and oak are suggestions rather than overt features in themselves. It’s one of Australia’s new wave chardonnays, showing that there’s more to Aussie chardonnay, than, well, chardonnay. £13.87 - £19.99, Booths, Majestic, West Wine, Green and Blue, Cooden Cellars, winedirect.com, Miles Better Wines, Oz Wines, Vinoteca.

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