Wine magnate Bernard Magrez has outraged a group of journalists by offering each of them a Cartier wristwatch worth €1,650 (£1,322/$2,641).

The watches were distributed after a press lunch hosted by Magrez and French actor Gerard Depardieu on 26 March. The lunch was held at the Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. Around 50 journalists attended – including wine critic and ex-Revue du Vin de France editor Thierry Desseauve, Philippe Bidalon from L’Express magazine and Gérard Muteaud of Le Nouvel Observateur.

Upon leaving the lunch, journalists were offered a bag that contained a press kit and a box that most did not open until after leaving the restaurant. The box contained the watch, and a certificate of authenticity signed by a Bordeaux jeweller.

One journalist, who requested anonymity, told decanter.com> that many journalists discussed the situation and agreed among themselves that keeping the watches could be misconstrued. It is understood that the majority have been returned.

In response to the gift, Desseauve wrote a letter to Magrez, detailing that he had donated the watch to French homeless charity Restaurants du Coeur.

‘Together with my colleague Michel Bettane {also ex-Revue du Vin de France}, who was not there, we wanted to show Mr Magrez that his gesture would not change our professional attitude towards him, nor our way of judging wines. We felt the most judicious response would be to give an equivalent sum to a relevant charitable body,’ Desseauve wrote in an email.

‘At 72 I’ve been around the block a few times, and I know what you should and shouldn’t do with respect to journalists,’ Magrez told decanter.com.

‘I am not so stupid as to think I can buy them. This lunch was held to commemorate over 1,700 vintages [collectively] at my three greatest vineyards, and I chose to mark the occasion by engraving a watch. If a few of the invited journalists choose not to keep the watch, that is of course their prerogative.’

The former head of Cartier is Alain Dominique Perrin, a friend of Magrez who recently commented that Bordeaux pricing was immoral, and that first growths could not cost more than €15 (£12/$24) per bottle to produce.

The incident was first published on political blog site bakchich.info, with the comment, ‘When you produce an average-quality wine, nothing works better than a pretty present in order to get the specialist press onside.’

The Bernard Magrez Group has an annual turnover of €40m (£24m/$48m), with over 35 wine estates around the world.

Written by Jane Anson