NEW YORK, Aug 14 (Reuters Life!) - Does it matter what the label on your wine bottle says? Yes, quite a lot, according to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) which has halted the import of certain Italian and French wines.
The federal agency, which approves the labels of wines imported into the United States, is withholding that approval from all wines from Montepulciano and Saint Emilion.
“It’s similar to the issues involving Brunello,” TTB spokesman Art Resnick said, referring to the import restrictions placed on one of Italy’s premier wines earlier this summer.
Italian authorities suspected winemakers were using grapes other than the only one allowed - Sangiovese - in Brunello di Montalcino. Bottles were seized at the vineyards and U.S. imports blocked. The matter was resolved when the Italian government agreed to certify the wines’ authenticity.
“It’s not a safety issue,” Resnick said on Wednesday. “It’s a labeling issue. We’re concerned about consumer deception.”
“It’s the same thing as the Brunello. There are laws in Italy regarding the grapes that are used and they are investigating some of the producers because they were apparently not in accordance with the regulations,” Resnick said, adding they were holding back those label approvals as well.
Italy’s Agriculture Minister Luca Zaia who intervened this year to lift the U.S block on Brunello sales, on Thursday stood by the quality of Montepluciano wine and said he was getting in touch with the U.S authorities to resolve the issue.
“We reiterate that Montepulciano quality is the best. But those who have made mistakes will pay ... without undermining the work of honest producers who respect the rules,” Zaia said in a statement.
Italian officials are investigating producers for allegedly using grapes from southern Italy in their wines. The wines take their name from the Renaissance town of Montepulciano, located about halfway between Florence and Rome in southern Tuscany.
Federico Carletti, acting chairman of the Consortium of Nobile producers, said two producers of the premium red wine were suspected of adding some non-authorized grapes to Nobile.
“Two of our producers have been penalized... but they have already resolved their problems,” Carletti told Reuters.
In the case of Saint Emilion, the dispute arose after a Bordeaux court struck down the classification of the 2006 Grand Cru Classe and the Premier Cru Classe properties, saying the rating process was biased.
The French Senate quickly acted to temporarily restore the classification, but several chateaux have objected. Producers were left uncertain about how to label their wines.
Resnick said his agency became aware of the dispute because of French media reports.
“We’re in talks with the French government and we’re waiting for clarification,” he added.
Resnick declined to reveal which wines were having their labels withheld, but did say they were all concerning 2006 and 2007 vintages.
(Additional reporting by Svetlana Kovalyova in Milan)
(Editing by Paul Casciato)
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