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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - U.S. officials were in contact with French counterparts on Tuesday to learn more about millions of gallons of wine believed wrongly labeled as Pinot Noir and sold to the United States over the last four years.
The authorities were alerted to the suspected fraud after a regional wine office spotted a significant discrepancy between the level of Pinot Noir production from the Aude in the larger Languedoc-Roussillon region and export figures.
A newspaper in southern France, La Depeche, quoted an informant giving details about the lucrative scam -- selling falsely labeled Pinot Noir which fetches about twice the price for other red wine from the region.
"It's still early. We are in communication with the French authorities to determine the nature and the scope of this problem," said Art Resnick, a spokesman for the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
"After we've established all the facts, we will take the appropriate action."
It was not clear at what stage in the process of making, selling and exporting the wine that any fraud may have occurred.
Some of the wine believed fraudulently labeled may have been sold to E&J Gallo, the largest privately held U.S. wine company, by Sieur d'Arques, a wine company in France's Languedoc-Roussillon region.
"We have just learned of the fraud investigation in France and we were surprised to discover that Sieur d'Arques is under investigation," E & J Gallo Winery spokesman John Segale told Reuters.
"These are serious allegations. We are actively working to learn more and we will be closely following the situation... Our company is committed to producing and selling wine that meets the highest standards and we expect the same from all our suppliers."
Laurence Rouanet, a spokeswoman for Sieur d'Arques, declined immediate comment.
Sieur d'Arques supplies at least some of the wine that Gallo sells under its Red Bicyclette brand of Pinot Noir.
Winemakers and cooperatives from that area sell to the Ducasse negociant firm which in turn sells it to Sieur d'Arques for export to the United States.
The Ducasse negociant firm also declined comment.
Wine website decanter.com said the public prosecutor's office would not comment on details of the case that could have involved over 3 million gallons of falsely labeled Pinot Noir between exported between 2004 and 2008.
Additional reporting by Sophie Taylor in Paris, editing by Belinda Goldsmith