EU court ruling leaves sour taste for Italian vinegar producers

BRUSSELS, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Italian vinegar producers suffered a blow on Wednesday when the EU's top court ruled that the term "balsamic" can be used to label vinegar or flavourings even if they are not from Italy's northern province of Modena.

Judges from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) had been asked to rule on use of the term "Aceto Balsamico di Modena", which has been protected since 2009 as a geographical indication, meaning it can only be used by producers in the province of Modena.

Producers from the area had sought to prevent a German company labelling its vinegar-based products as "balsamico" and "deutscher balsamico" (German balsamic). The matter went before a German court, which asked the CJEU for clarification.

The EU judges determined that the protection of the name could not apply to non-geographic words, meaning that "aceto" (vinegar) or "balsamico" could be freely used, the latter merely referring to a vinegar with a bitter-sweet flavour.

They noted that the terms also appeared in another protected designation from a neighbouring province in Italy - Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Reggio Emilia. (Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Gareth Jones)