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French are popping mad about Obama inauguration 'champagne'

January 09, 2013|By Marc Lifsher

Franco-American relations are being strained by plans to serve California "champagne" at an inauguration banquet honoring reelected President Barack Obama.

The menu's dessert listing calls for "Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvee Champagne, California."

The Champagne Bureau, a Washington lobby for the French Champagne industry, is frothing like a newly opened magnum of Chateau de Rothschild.

Real Champagne, the bureau insists,  can only come from the region of Champagne, France, and bubbly from anywhere else should only claim to be "sparkling wine," no matter how good it tastes.

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Sam Heitner, the bureau's director, is writing a letter of protest to the luncheon's host, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and its chairman, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), according to the Hill, a publication that covers Congress. The international brouhaha was first reported by the French news service Agence France-Presse.

Most countries no longer allow wine not produced in the Champagne region to be called Champagne, the Champagne Bureau's website notes. But U.S. law allows some U.S. vintners to use the term if the name also includes the origin of its grapes.

The label of the inaugural dessert wine actually reads  "Korbel Russian River Valley Natural Champagne," said Margie Healy, a spokeswoman for the 130-year-old Sonoma Valley vintner.

Unfortunately, she said, the congressional committee erroneously placed the word "California" to the right instead of the left of the word "champagne" in a news release about the Jan. 21 luncheon.

The glitch, which so upset the French, will be fixed when the menu is reprinted, Healy said.

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