EU court's balsamic decision leaves bitter taste for Italian vinegar producers

Italian producers of balsamic vinegar have attacked the EU's top court after they lost a legal challenge against a German company, calling the decision "totally unfair".

The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled the term "balsamic" can be used to label vinegar or flavourings even if they are not from Italy's northern province of Modena.

The case centred on the company Balema using the names "balsamico" and "deutscher balsamico" (German balsamic) to label its vinegar-based products.

Balema was sued by the Consortium for Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, which claimed it violated the use of the geographical food designation term "aceto balsamico di Modena" (balsamic vinegar of Modena).

The term has been protected since 2009, meaning it can only be used by producers in the province of Modena.

The matter went before a German court, which asked the EU's top court for clarification.

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

They said the terms also appeared in another protected designation from a neighbouring province in Italy - aceto balsamico tradizionale di Reggio Emilia.

Mariangela Grosoli, the president of the Consortium for Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, said in a statement: "We consider this decision totally unfair".

"The truth is, many European countries have sought to partially appropriate the global success enjoyed by the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena - the only vinegar to be sweet and sour and to use the word "balsamic" - which was attributed to it many centuries ago by the Este dukes, who thought it was medicinal."