Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Budget Champagne Sorbet Gives Aldi a Five-Year Legal Hangover

  • French Champagne producers attacked Aldi’s use of their name
  • EU court aide says final decision best made by German judges

It was only a one-time promotion, but using the name Champagne to give its Christmas sorbet a bit of fizz has given discount supermarket chain Aldi a five-year legal hangover.

Aldi may have gone too far in 2012 when it decided to sell the icy dessert laced with a 12 percent shot of the sparkling wine as “Champagner Sorbet” in Germany, an adviser to the European Union’s highest court said in a non-binding opinion Thursday.

The label on the sorbet packaging shows “a cork with the wire used to attach it to the bottle, a half-full glass and a beverage, probably Champagne,” said Manuel Campos Sanchez-Bordona, an advocate general at the EU Court of Justice. “In the background, clearly visible, is a bottle of the French bubbly. I don’t think that the significance of these elements can be ignored.”

The product had a brief shelf life, but Aldi’s legal woes over its choice of name have lingered on. The French wine producers, called the Comite Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne, accused the supermarket of violating their protected EU right for the name. The dispute is now pending at Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, which sought EU guidance last year.

The EU court’s ruling normally follows four to six months after an opinion and will be binding and guide the German judges in their final decision in the dispute.

Aldi representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Even if the advocate general in Thursday’s opinion reiterated throughout that the German court was best placed to decide on the facts, his view indicated that Aldi will be hard-pressed to escape a finding that it went too far.

“I am of the view that the presence of graphical elements on the product’s packaging contribute to reinforcing the allusion to the Champagne designation of origin,” Campos Sanchez-Bordona said.

In addition to the name “Champagner Sorbet, the producer and distributor hope to evoke in the mind of their consumers the quality and prestige associated with this designation of origin, and extend it to the sorbet.”

— With assistance by Richard Weiss

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