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US relaxes vintage regulations

The US has relaxed regulations governing vintage-dating of certain blends.

Under the new rule, 85% of wine in a bottle must come from grapes picked in the vintage year on the label. It used to be 95 percent.

The change brings American labelling practices in line with those in Australia, New Zealand and the European Union.

The government accepted the contention of the Wine Institute, a Californian producers’ trade association, that an 85% regulation ‘would lead to improved taste appeal and quality perception of many wines.’

The Institute said ‘young red wines would be smoother and less “green”’ and would be ‘more consistent’ across vintages and that ‘older white wines would be fresher and fruitier.’

The new rule affects only wines carrying county (for example, Sonoma County), multicounty (Central Coast) or state (California) appellations. But the 95% standard still governs regional American Viticultural Areas such as Napa Valley and Los Carneros.

The Institute said that ‘consumers would benefit from the US winemaker’s ability to produce better quality wine at the same cost.’

In effect agreeing, the government said the revision would ‘generally enhance the competitiveness of US wineries in a global marketplace.’

The government pondered for-and-against arguments from wineries and growers. The Lodi District Grape Growers Association felt a change would confuse consumers who want accurate vintage information. The Napa Valley Vintners, with 270 members, agreed.

‘If a winery decides to blend vintages to produce a marketable wine, the wine should not bear a vintage date,’ it said.

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York

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