Champagne faux pas at Obama inaugural luncheon?

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Would champagne by any other name taste as good? For French producers, the answer is a resounding "non" - especially when the beverage is to be served at the United States (US) presidential inaugural luncheon.

Champagne producers in France, who are very protective of the singular nature of their product, were not necessarily upset that California-made bubbly is to be served at lunch after President Barack Obama's Jan 21 swearing-in.

But the official menu from organisers - which includes steamed lobster, hickory grilled bison, apple pie and "Korbel Natural, Special Inaugural Cuvee Champagne, California" - released on Wednesday definitely raised hackles.

"Champagne only comes from Champagne," Mr Sam Heitner, the director of the US Champagne Bureau, told AFP, referring to the French region outside Paris where the festive fizzy beverage is produced.

The name may seem a trifling matter, but Europeans are striving to protect the names of regional and traditional foods originating from specific regions, such as French champagne and Parmesan cheese made in Parma, Italy.

The US and the European Union in 2006 signed a deal banning US producers from using the word "champagne" on their labels - but the law was not retroactive, so producers like Korbel can still use the French term.

However, they must specify where it is made - "California Champagne" or "New York Champagne", according to Mr Heitner.

Later in the day, a spokesman for the inaugural organising committee seemingly put an end to the bubbling crisis.

"The Champagne Lobby should have a glass of their own product and relax," said Mr Matt House, spokesman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

"We are proud to be serving American champagne at the inauguration, and its location of origin will be appropriately displayed on the label, and the menu in accordance with the law, and international treaties," he told AFP.

"The menu will say 'California Champagne'," said Mr House.