The “Marianne” customs seal affixed to the top of French wine bottles will no longer be mandatory as of June 1, 2019.
What is it used for?
The seal indicates that alcohol consumption duty has been paid. Once it has been applied, the bottle can travel around France without an accompanying document, hence its French nickname “capsule congé”, which means leave and literally allows it to leave the warehouse.
What does it say?
Firstly, its colour differs depending on the type of drink (wines, brandies etc) because the tax levied is different from one drink to another. Two digits then indicate the code of the department where the bottler is located (generally the same as the production code). Finally, a letter specifies the qualification of the bottler: R (harvester) when the producer is also the bottler; N (merchant) when the bottler has bought the wine from a producer; and E (authorised warehouse keepers) which also means merchant.
Why phase it out?
Only the tax stamp disappears, not the tax itself. Because electronic tracking systems now make it possible to ensure that tax has been paid, the duty seal (CRD), which was introduced in 1960, can be phased out to reduce red tape. As it was not affixed to bottles bound for export, it made the task harder for the wine industry in terms of bottling lines and inventories.
What about the consumer?
The loss of information on the producer or the negociant is certainly a step backwards. Often winegrowers enjoy a better image with the public than trading companies. But this perception is not always justified. There are excellent wine merchants, whose art consists of NOT buying wine from mediocre winegrowers. However, knowing what you are buying is always appreciated. And since some winegrowers can double up as negociants, in addition to their own production, there is a risk that consumers will lose visibility.
What can be done about it?
Firstly, if its usage is no longer mandatory, it is unlikely that the industry will continue to use it, therefore marking the demise of the duty-paid capsule. However, there is nothing to prevent winegrowers who wish to do so from stating their title on the label. Some appellations may even decide to introduce mandatory marking, like Champagne’s RM for harvester-producer or NM for trader-producer, but it seems unlikely.
Certain groups of winegrowers, such as the “independent winegrowers”, stipulate direct marketing in their charters, providing an initial source of information. But the best way of accessing information is by buying your wine directly from winegrowers, wine merchants who share their knowledge, or via well-documented specialist websites. And since knowledge of a wine improves the taste, the process always pays off!
By Alain Echalier