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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

The European Commission has adopted important new packaging regulations after negotiations lasting one and a half years. Nine member states voted in favour of the new legislation, four abstained and two voted against. The measures will come into force from 1 January 2003, and will cover musts and wines imported into the EU, as well as those produced within its borders. At the request of France, reference to grape variety and vintage will continue to be restricted to Quality Wines Produced in a Specified Region and to Table Wines with Geographical Description (Appellation d'Origine Contrle and Vins de Pays, and equivalents). France also won protection for certain bottle shapes (e.g. Alsace flutes, Jura clavelins) and for 35 terms traditionally used on labels (e.g. chteau, cru class, primeur, vendange tardive, slection de grains nobles, sur lie and vin jaune). Among other traditional terms reserved for the sole use of particular wines are Ruby and Tawny for Port, and cream for Sherry (as made wines, British wines may, however, continue to use them). Under the new rules, New World producers will no longer be able to use the latter terms for fortified wines exported to the EU, and would have to negotiate bilateral agreements permitting their use. Among the most important innovations is the ability to include additional information on labels where its veracity can be verified. Some such claims (e.g. contains no sulphides', or suitable for vegans') may be checked comparatively easily, while other statements (e.g. from hand-picked grapes', or contains six standard units of alcohol') may be more difficult to confirm or be subject to interpretation. Another major development, which will favour consumers more than producers (and which was therefore resisted by some producer nations), is the option to say whether a varietal or vintage wine is made 100% from the stated variety or year (85% will still suffice for wines from the EU, Australia and New Zealand, 75% for wines from the US). The legislation is expected to reach its final form by the end of April. The Wine Standards Board will be the agency responsible for enforcing it within the UK.