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Alko runs afoul of law, ends wine tasting courses

State alcohol monopoly retailer Alko has organised up to 200 of the wine sampling sessions annually.

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Alko's wine tasting course ran for just over 20 years before stumbling over new alcohol legislation. Image: Sasha Silvala / Yle

State-owned alcohol monopoly retailer Alko has indefinitely suspended its public wine tasting courses. The decision follows a probe into the sessions by the National Supervisory Authority for Welfare and Health, Valvira, earlier this autumn.

Etiketti is an Alko club that offers paying members the opportunity to learn about fine wines. According to restaurant industry publication Viisi Tähteä (Five Stars), Alko organises as many as 200 sessions annually.

In September Alko announced that it would temporarily suspend the events until the end of October, when Valvira indicated it wanted to test the practice against the provisions of alcohol legislation.

On Wednesday, the state monopoly retailer said that with the entry into force of new alcohol legislation, it would have to review practices related to the tasting sessions jointly with the authorities and that it would no longer host the events.

Grog should first be purchased from Alko

Alko said that its beverage tasting events are based on its statutory retail rights and the fact that course participants have a right to sample the liquor featured in its events.

However according to the new legislation, Alko cannot transport alcoholic beverages to the training events. Rather, participants must purchase them from Alko outlets.

Alko has said that this method would be impractical to implement.

The Etiketti events date back to 1998, when it was introduced as a result of consumer demand. Last year roughly 4,400 people participated in the wine tasting sessions.

Alko offered samples without a bar licence

Alko first came under the health watchdog’s scrutiny earlier this autumn when Viisi Tähteä reported on a private wine expert who was organising paid tasting sessions. The publication said at the time that police suspected the entrepreneur of violating alcohol laws for not acquiring a bar licence for the events.

The publication also said that it had reached out to Alko and Valvira to determine if there was any similarity with Alko’s events.

The query revealed that Alko’s practice of organising wine tasting courses at different outlets was an infringement of regulations governing the retail sale of alcohol.

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