In a communication which appeared in The Times, and which Mr. Max Pemberton has also addressed to this Journal, Mr. Pemberton observes that during the Great War a Commercial Treaty was made between this country and its oldest ally, Portugal. One of the considerations for this Treaty was that Great Britain reserved to Portugal the sole right of use of the name “Port” to be applied to wines certified as such by the Portuguese Government. Before that Treaty there was no legal restriction of the use of the word “port,” which could be, and was, applied to cheap Spanish and even British wines—such as “Tarragona Port” and “British Port.” Unfortunately, in granting Portugal the exclusive right to the word “Port,” our Government made no stipulation as to the standard below which the Portuguese wines should not be certified as port, and, in effect, the Treaty bound the English law to follow the Portuguese law in this matter. Port is a strong wine made from vines grown on the banks of the Upper Douro, and “fortified” at the vintage by the addition of fine grape brandy. Its strength is a vital and distinctive characteristic, and at the time when the Treaty was made, and for very many years before that, the strength standard recognised by all reputable shippers was not under 35 per cent. of proof spirit. At the time of the Treaty, our wine duty was 2s. 6d. per dozen for wines up to 30 per cent., and 6s. per dozen for wines above that strength. so that all “recognised” ports then paid our higher rate of duty.—In 1920 our wine duties were doubled and all wines over 30 became chargeable at 12s. per dozen, instead of 6s. With a view to reducing costs some syndicates in Portugal then started shipping ports to this country at strengths below 30 per cent., thus saving 7s. a dozen to the buyers. But this saving was not necessarily passed to the consumer, and as, unfortunately, the law does not require a statement of the strength of port on the label, these low‐strength wines can be sold to the public at the same prices as the recognised high‐grade and high‐strength ports. At present, therefore, the public has no security as to strength, unless it insists on buying ports of the well‐known brands of reputable, houses, which carry a guarantee that they are of full strength, and these low‐strength wines sold as port are pouring into this country in an ever‐increasing volume, nearly three times as much having been shipped to Great Britain in the year 1924–5 as in 1921–22. If all these 2,228.842 gallons of low‐duty port imported into this country paid the higher rate of wine duty, the Revenue would have received £390,000 more from them than it actually did—in other words, the difference in the duty paid on these wines has resulted in a loss of that sum to the British revenue. Our Government could not have foreseen, when the treaty was made, how it would be evaded. From the revenue point of view, therefore, as well as that of the consumer, there is a clear case for regulating the strength at which wines may be described as “port.”—Port now plays so great a part in the wine dietary of this country that there should be an amendment of our law which would compel a statement on all port labels as to the strength of the wine—whether above or below the 30 per cent. duty line—in protection of the British consumer, who, in the meantime, can protect himself only on insisting on a disclosure as to whether his wine be full strength or otherwise. Indeed, some of the leading houses have found it necessary already to state on their labels and in their advertisements that their ports are of “full strength” as a safeguard to the buyer. Undoubtedly, some legal protection is required for the growing army of port consumers, in accordance with the precedent by which the law compels disclosure of strength in the case of whisky and other spirits below 35 degrees under proof. The public would then be protected against a form of the “confidence trick” and vendors of port could not complain if they were required to state the strength‐standard of their wine. Strong wines (over 30 degrees) from our Colonies were granted in the last Budget a preference of 8s. per dozen in duty, with a deliberate view to the development of Empire trade. Such is the magic of the word “port,” however, that so long as the wines are subject to the competition of low‐duty Portuguese wines at a cheap price to which the name “port” may be applied (Colonial wines are not permitted by law to use that name) the preference wines cannot be fully effective. If our Imperial wines containing over 30 per cent. of proof spirit cannot be described as port, it seems unfair that the name should be allowed to Portuguese wines containing less than 30 per cent. of proof spirit.
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