In that case, the ICCW (Interprofessional Committee of Champagne Wine) accused the company Aldi of damaging the prestigious "Champagne" Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) by selling an ice-cream in Germany called "Champagne Sorbet" ("Champagner Sorbet" in German). Aldi defended itself by arguing its legitimate interest to use that name for a product containing 12% Champagne among its ingredients.
Having won on first instance but lost before the Court of Appeal, the ICCW lodged an appeal before the German Supreme Court (the Bundesgerichtshof) which decided to stay proceedings and refer a serie of questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) for a preliminary ruling. In substance, the CJEU had to decide whether the regulations protecting PDOs (article 118 quaterdecies of regulation no. 1234/2007 of 22 October 2007) and article 103 of regulation no. 1308/2013 of 17 December 2013 applied to “a situation where a PDO, such as ‘Champagne’, is used as part of the name under which a foodstuff is sold, such as ‘Champagner Sorbet’, and where that foodstuff does not correspond to the product specifications for that PDO but contains an ingredient which does correspond to those specifications.”
Having emphasised that PDO regulations have a "particularly broad” application scope to enable their protection "against any use intended to take advantage of the reputation enjoyed by products which comply with the relevant specifications,” the Court recalls that infringement of reputation must be assessed “in the light of the particular circumstances of each individual case” (CJEU, 20 December 2017, C-393/16).
For the purposes of that assessment, the Court considers that “a relevant test is whether the ingredient protected by a PDO has been added in sufficient quantity to confer on the foodstuff concerned one of its essential characteristics,” while recognising that it is not possible to suggest a minimum percentage in view of the different potential situations.
The CJEU concludes: “the use of a PDO as part of the name under which is sold a foodstuff that does not correspond to the product specifications for that PDO but contains an ingredient that does correspond to those specifications, such as ‘Champagner Sorbet’, constitutes exploitation of the reputation of a PDO, within the meaning of those provisions, where the name of the foodstuff corresponds to the name by which the relevant public usually refers to that foodstuff and the ingredient has been added in sufficient quantity to give the foodstuff one of its essential characteristics."
However, several questions still remained: How is it possible to assess a Champagne "taste”? Who should be responsible for that (the judge, an expert, a panel of consumers…)? To what extent should the Champagne taste predominate over the taste of the other ingredients to be considered as an essential characteristic? What happens when the ingredient covered by the PDO cannot be identified in the final mix? What can be done to ensure that it is really a Champagne that is used and not a simple sparkling wine?
In this context, it is therefore difficult to predict the final decision to be reached by the German Court.