French court slaps 'tezcal' distributor

William M. Dowd photo

When it comes to taking people to court to protect terms applied to wines and spirits, the French take a backseat to no one. Woe to any competitor who misuses such terms as “champagne” and “cognac.”

However, a court in Paris this week put a spin on that situatuation when it ruled that a French firm must cease selling a spirit it calls "tezcal" because the word is too similar to "mezcal," a version of tequila.

The suit was brought by the DCE Ultramarine company, which distributes mezcal in France. It said LaMartiniquaise, the company distributing the controversial spirit, were likely to confuse shoppers.

The term "mezcal" is protected by the International Denomination of Origin status for agricultural products and foodstuffs.

The court fined La Martiniquaise $40,000 and ordered it to remove all "tezcal" bottles from shops.

Mezcal is one style of drink made from the agave plant and, by international agreement, is a Mexican-only beverage. At one time, it was a low-end drink, with 100% blue agave tequila on the opposite end of the scale.

However, as the global market for agave-based spirits has steadily grown in recent years, more distillers have been producing purer and more flavorful mezcals. There are eight varieties of agave approved for mezcal production. The most commonly used is the espadin agave.

The Beverage Tasting Institute offers a succinct history and explanation of agave spirits.

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