In February, authorities introduced a new system to test Argentinian wines for natamycin, after traces of the anti-fungal product used for cleaning during winemaking were discovered in a small number of samples.
Although the substance is not harmful, it is not permitted in wines under EU law.
But delays in implementing the certification system have resulted in a backlog of shipments, leaving some retailers with empty shelves.
According to Nielsen, sales dropped by £1.2 million over a three-week period to March 20, as volumes fell by 33% on the same period last year.
Stewart Blunt, Nielsen’s drinks analyst, said: “Looking over the off-trade numbers [the cause] is not conclusive, as the slowdown began at the end of 2009, but the past three weeks look to be showing a further dip, which is likely to be the impact of the delays.”?Although supplies are now gradually filtering through, some retailers have been forced to fill space with alternative wines.
Sainsbury’s wine buyer Clem Yates said: “This has resulted in many of our lines being out of stock. One of our suppliers spent three days camped out in a lab trying to get a wine sample analysed so the wine could land in time for a promotion.
“We moved Chile and other New World wines with similar styles to fill the gap – we haven’t sourced new products as yet. We will try and help our suppliers to get their wines out of Argentina so we don’t have these delays, but it will hurt sales if we don’t have wines to go on our shelves.”?Majestic reported similar problems. Wine buyer Camilla Bordewich said: “Several shipments have suffered significant delays leading to low stocks on several lines, although most will be replenished within the next fortnight.
“We have not sourced alternatives – the problem has been compounded by the Chilean earthquake which happened just as problems with Argentinian supply were beginning.”?Laurie Webster, chief executive of importer Las Bodegas, said: “I expect the overall situation will mean a dip in export figures, but the industry should catch up again because the wines are so good and interest in them continues to grow.
“I don’t foresee any long-term damage as a result.”