Overheard the other day at a restaurant…”can we have a bottle of your best Italian Champagne?”

Only a few of our readers may not know that these diners were actually ordering prosecco. But the misidentification of alcohol beverage products has greater ramifications than confusion at the dinner table. Origin and identity of a drinks products has legal significance (as well as class/type designation under federal regulation).

To wit, the federal code regulations define champagne as (yes, the definition of champagne is codified in law):

(2) Champagne is a type of sparkling light wine which derives its effervescence solely from the secondary fermentation of the wine within glass containers of not greater than one gallon capacity, and which possesses the taste, aroma, and other characteristics attributed to champagne as made in the champagne district of France.

Parse the language of the above out and make note of the various requirements. If any one of the characteristics is not present, the drinker is ordering and drinking something other than Champagne.

Another example found in federal law for distilled spirits (and there are many) include:

1) “Cachaça” is rum that is a distinctive product of Brazil, manufactured in Brazil in compliance with the laws of Brazil regulating the manufacture of Cachaça for consumption in that country. The word “Cachaça” may be spelled with or without the diacritic mark (i.e., “Cachaça” or “Cachaca”).

Precise definition and country of origin define a particular product and are required to be held out to the public precisely and accurately. The use of such terms are known as “standards of identity” and are strictly enforced by the US Government (Tax and Trade Bureau) and the countries from which these terms of identity (and product(s)) originate. They are unique, a special commodity found only in the place of its true origin and, perhaps obviously, have significant economic value to the place from which they come. They must also fit neatly into TTB’s class/type categories.

Enter this lawsuit.

Not long ago, the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) filed a lawsuit in Federal District Court against the Virginia Distillery Company that is using the term “Highland” on its whiskey label. The SWA is claiming the use of such term is improper and should be used only on whiskey produced in Scotland.

The SWA stated (as quoted in the “Drinks Business”) “the defendant’s labeling of its products intentionally misidentifies the true geographic origin of its products in an effort to trade in on the good will and prestige of Scotch whisky.