Italian vinegar makers lose battle over 'balsamic' ownership

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Vinegar is poured over parmesan cheese in the Italian province of Modena on 27 March, 2017Image source, Getty Images
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The term "Balsamic Vinegar from Modena" has been protected since 2009

The EU's top court has thrown out an attempt by vinegar makers in Italy's Modena province to stop competitors from using the term "balsamic".

The producers had argued that each term in the description "Balsamic Vinegar from Modena" was theirs to use exclusively under EU rules.

The phrase has been protected as a "geographical indication" since 2009.

But the European Court of Justice said this did not mean exclusive use of the word "balsamic".

Geographical indications (GIs) are used by the EU to protect food and drinks "whose quality, reputation or other such characteristics relate to its geographical origin." It says it does so to protect products against "misuse or imitation".

Modena, in northern Italy, is famous for its balsamic vinegar. It is made from specific varieties of grape which are aged in wooden barrels for several years.

But the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Wednesday that protection of the name "Aceto Balsamico di Modena" (Balsamic Vinegar from Modena) "does not extend to the use of the individual non-geographical terms of that name".

"The term 'aceto' [vinegar] is a common term and the term 'balsamico' [balsamic] is an adjective that is commonly used to refer to a vinegar with a bitter-sweet flavour," it said.

The producers in Modena launched the case after a vinegar manufacturer in Germany marketed its vinegar-based products with the names "Balsamico" and "Deutscher Balsamico" (German Balsamic).

The case went before a German court, which then asked the ECJ for clarification.

The court noted that the terms also appeared in another protected designation from a neighbouring province in Italy - "Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Reggio Emilia" (Traditional Balsamic Vinegar from Reggio Emilia).

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