A few nights ago, I cozied up to the bar at the swank Hotel ICON on Main Street downtown to wait for a friend who was staying there.
I asked for a wines-by-the-glass list only to discover that there was nothing by the glass that I wanted to put into my body (it was dominated by usual-suspect, high-volume commercial wines that I avoid at all cost).
So when the nice bartender informed that they were featuring Champagne by the glass for just $5, I was intrigued.
"What's your house Champagne?" I asked.
"Rogét," she answered.
"Pol Roger?" I inquired, delving deeper into the provenance of said "Champagne."
"Yes," she told me.
"Great, yes, please! And one for my friend who will be joining me shortly."
After tasting the wine and realizing that it wasn't Pol Roger, a favorite (and true) Champagne, I asked to see the bottle.
The bartender graciously obliged and produced the bottle (above), entirely unaware of the fact that I had been convinced that she would be pouring me Pol Roger.
In the United States, winemakers are free to call their wines Lambrusco, Chianti, Burgundy, Chablis, or Champagne: They are not bound by the same laws that restrict EU producers from infringing on PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) regulations. In other words, they can only call a wine "Champagne" if it is produced in Champagne, using sanctioned vinification techniques and grapes grown in Champagne.
The label of the wine she poured, by "J. Rogét," clearly states "American Champagne."
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I can't find a website for the J. Rogét winery in New York but a New York state wine resource I found states that the Canandaigua Wine Company is the "third largest wine producer in the United States. Wines are produced under a number of labels, including Batavia Wine Cellar, Cooks, Cribari, Dunnewood, Italian Swiss Colony, J. Roget Champagne, Manischewitz Wines, Sun Country Wine Coolers, Windmer's Wine Cellars, and Wild Irish Rose. The winery is not open for tours."
In the light of the wine's origin, it's not surprising that the unscrupulous vintners have no qualms about calling the wine "Champagne."
I didn't drink the wine. I paid, tipped, and my friend and I left for dinner.
The moral of the story? When someone tells you they're selling Pol Roger for $5 a glass, it's not just probably too good to be true. It's just not true.