The European Commission today announced that it had adopted new rules for the labelling of wine. The rules lay down what information must be shown on labels from 1 January 2003, such as alcoholic strength, lot number or the name of the bottler.

In addition, the use of certain optional terms, such as production methods, traditional expressions, names of the vineyard or the vintage year have been regulated.

This decision also introduces arrangements for the protection of traditional expressions used to describe wine, including the language in which the terms are used.

In a statement, the EC said the decision harmonises disparate approaches across the EU which existed for different types of wine. Now the same labelling approach will apply for all wines and wine products.

"This comprehensive labelling system means that producers will better inform consumers about the wine they are buying. This decision is a cornerstone to better protection of consumers' and producers' interests, to ensure the smooth operation of the internal market and to promote quality wine", said Franz Fischler, European commissioner for agriculture, rural development and fisheries.

The basic regulation lays down the obligatory terms such as the sales designation, volume, alcoholic strength, lot number and names of bottler and/or consignor and/or importer. The new regulation adopts certain details of their use, notably on the indication of the alcoholic strength, including tolerances, where the status quo is maintained.

The legislation also cover optional terms, which have now been regulated. Some terms may be used for all wines, for instance names of those involved in the commercial chain, the type of product (dry, sweet, etc) and a particular colour beyond the usual red/white/rosé classification.

Terms concerning the vintage year, the vine variety, awards and medals, production methods, traditional expressions, names of vineyards and places of bottling are however reserved for wines with a geographical indication.

Terms which do not fall under either the obligatory or optional but regulated categories may be added on the label, providing they do not mislead consumers.

There was also further legislation concerning geographical indications. "To prevent misuse and in the interests of fair competition, consumer protection and market transparency, traditional expressions are reserved for the wines concerned," the statement said. Including increased protection of what the EC calls traditional expressions or TEs.

"Some TEs are considered to be so closely linked to a geographical origin as to meet the TRIPs definition of a Geographical Indication (GI). Therefore the regulation provides for exclusive protection for these terms subject to the TRIPs disciplines," it said.

Examples of these traditional expressions are Ruby, Tawny or Vintage for "Port" from Portugal and Amarone for "Valpolicella" or Gutturnio for "Colli Piacentini" or Lacryma Christi for "Vesuvio" from Italy.

For the full text of the EC legislation click here: http://europa.eu.int/rapid/start/cgi/guesten.ksh?p_action.gettxt=gt&doc=IP/02/648|0|RAPID&lg=EN&display=