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Spain loses ‘Rioja’ name battle with Argentina

Spain has lost its 12-year battle with Argentina over use of the name La Rioja.

La Rioja, Spain: not to be confused with La Rioja, Argentina

The northwestern Argentinian province of La Rioja was founded by a Spaniard in 1591; the Spanish were also responsible for introducing vines to the region.

In recent decades, however, Spain has been increasingly concerned that wine consumers will confuse wines from La Rioja Argentina, as they are labelled, with wines from the northern Spanish DO of Rioja – one of the most-recognised wine brands in the world.

In 1999 the Consejo Regulador – the regulatory council – of Rioja initiated proceedings against the Argentinian region which resulted in a court battle that has only just been settled.

A Buenos Aires judge has just dismissed the case, arguing that La Rioja Argentina distinguishes its wines sufficiently against its Spanish namesakes’ wines, and that there was no intention to cause confusion.

Moreover, the fact that the majority of the wines in the Spanish region are red wines made from Tempranillo, while most of La Rioja Argentina’s wines are white, made from Torrontes, was a further reason why confusion was unlikely, the Argentinian region argued.

The Rioja consejo said it would appeal the decision. Market research suggested that ‘nearly 60% of consumers identify wines of La Rioja Argentina with those of Rioja,’ secretary general José Luis Lapuente told the Daily Telegraph.

While UK importers reckon the issue is something of a storm in a teacup, given the relative sizes of the regions, many agreed there was certainly a possibility of confusion.

‘I would say 99% of people who saw the word “Rioja” on a bottle would think it came from Spain,’ one wine merchant told Decanter.com. ‘Nobody really knows that much about Argentinian sub-regions do they? Has anybody heard of La Rioja in Argentina?’

La Rioja in Spain has some 61,000ha of land under vine and produces around 250m litres of wine a year from over 600 bodegas.

La Rioja in Argentina is a fraction the size, with 8,200ha under vine producing 60m litres of wine.

Its wines are much prized, however: at last year’s Decanter World Wine Awards the Valle de la Puerta Alta Bonarda 2009, a red wine from the Famantina Valley, won one of the highest awards, the Red Single Varietal Trophy Under £10.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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