The French may be making lots of noise about trying to upgrade quality and make the appellation system really mean something, but it seems that a spot of bad weather is enough to dissolve those good intentions.
In the Rhône Valley at any rate, which admittedly suffered dire weather leading up to the 2002 harvest without enough sunshine to ripen the grapes fully and with galloping rot thanks to a surfeit of rain, the minimum alcoholic degree for virtually all red wines has been conveniently reduced by 0.5 so that Côtes du Rhône musts, for example, needed only to reach 10.5 per cent alcohol to be granted full appellation status.
I was assured by a spokesperson for the region however that this was not too important since all the wines would simply receive an extra half a degree's worth of added sugar. So that's ok then.
You may ask whether half a degree of alcohol can matter much but I think it would be an important statement of intent if wine producers were to acknowledge that Nature doesn't always cooperate and pay the price of living in a climate which, because it is not guaranteed to ripen the grape fully, usually produces wines of such subtlety.
What I think we all want to see is a dramatic decrease in the amount of 2002 wine sold under top labels in much of Europe. This will show real intent and consciousness of true quality - and could provide us with some reasonably priced second- and third-tier wines that will be ready for drinking much sooner than usual.