Buy Fake Pinot Noir? Raise A Glass To This $2.1 Million Class Action Settlement

collection of spanish wines
A collection of Spanish wines

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A year after a dozen Frenchmen were convicted of selling fake pinot noir to two companies, a California judge has approved a million-dollar settlement that will buy a free round for duped consumers.  Under the agreement, E&J Gallo and Constellation Brands will cut a $2.1 million check to drinkers of legal age who file a claim for purchasing the vino, which was sold in stores from 2005 through 2008, reports Reuters.

The “top-payment” for those lacking proof of purchase will be capped off at $21 and the deadline to file a claim is May 24, 2012. 

Gallo was unavailable for comment at press time. However, a Constellation spokesperson provided this statement over email:   

“Constellation had every reason to believe the 2005 – 2008 vintage bulk pinot noir wines it purchased from the French suppliers was genuine. With each purchase, Constellation received official French documentation stating that the wine was Pinot Noir.

If Constellation received any mislabeled wine, Constellation was a victim of the convicted French suppliers.

Nevertheless, the company agreed to settle with plaintiffs in the Zeller case by agreeing to make certain reimbursements to consumers who purchased the subject wines to assure customer satisfaction and resolve the claims made in this lawsuit without expending more time and money.” 

That consumers were duped by the shady wine isn’t suprising, said Joshua Moser, founder and CEO of Vino Servant, a wine recommendation site. 

“Somebody who is a world-class sommelier would probably be able to tell the difference, but if you put the Charles Shaw, Merlot and Syrah in front of a regular person and asked. ‘What grape are you drinking?’ I don’t think they’d be able to tell you.” 

The fake bottles were priced at $5 and $8, which might have been the first tip-off, said Moser. Most bargain bin wines start at $10 and $11, though it’s hard to tell what you’re getting just from a cursory glance at the label. 

But don’t let the recent wine debacle sway you from buying Pinot Noir. On its website, Sunset magazine lists a few helpful tips to make sure you’re getting the real thing: 

Check the colour. Pinot grapes should be nearly transparent. 

Break down the flavour. “Sniff for cloves and cinnamon, violets and mint, mushrooms and loam under the fruit. And taste for licorice, olives, espresso …” 

Scrutinize the weight. Pinot should be delicate and silky, not full-bodied and “dramatic.” 

For more details on the settlement, visit

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