Food Ingredient Labels Proliferate – Except on Wine Bottles

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GrapevineWhen shopping for the produce and/or meats necessary to prepare an at-home meal, consumers are increasingly aware of the nutritional and health values of unprocessed ingredients.

Many products contain nutrition and ingredient information on government-mandated food labels. But what of the fresh produce and not-shrink-wrapped meats in supermarkets? Current regulations are not always effective in achieving universal food labeling.

Increasing numbers of consumers are seeking out products grown and raised as they were for centuries before the industrialization of food products, before the era of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, before GMO products and Monsanto corn and soybeans.

Conscientious consumers have more food information available today than ever before. When consumers prepare a meal of the most healthful foods in the marketplace, they sit at table proud of their accomplishment. Typically, they will celebrate their meal with a glass of wine.

Herein lies the rub. That bottle of wine may be “industrialized” with man-made additives. But how is a discerning consumer able to make an informed decision on the quality of the wines they purchase? No government regulations exist that require a nutrition or ingredients label on a bottle of wine.

Ironically, there is no lack of verbiage on wine labels today – where the grapes are grown, which grapes were blended together, flowery adjectives describing the bouquet, aroma and flavor and even suggestions for food pairing. All with the implied intent of making a consumer’s decision-making process easier. The more information the better, correct?

Maybe. Does nice to know trump need to know?

Many consumers might question the need for any ingredient disclosure. To them, wine is simply fermented grape juice that “contains sulfites.”

The reality is that many wines contain additives introduced during the winemaking process, including several that remain present in the final product. Remember the (unfounded) scare several years ago concerning the levels of (naturally occurring) arsenic in numerous wines?

To add to the confusion are the current federal government regulations that list 62 chemical materials that may be legally added to wine – and not disclosed on the bottle label. 

In varying degrees and in varying winemakers’ end products, numerous synthetic enzymes may be added to enhance the color or balance the flavors or aromas. Sugar may be added to control alcohol levels, powdered tannins to influence overall quality and citric acid to control pH levels.

Many of these additives have not (yet) been shown to be harmful. However, otherwise natural wines are being adulterated in a significant number of bottles of wine.

While the industry has successfully resisted any form of disclosure, there is progress on the horizon. The European Union recently issued a mandate for disclosing ingredients on all wine labels, commencing December 2024. The information may be on the bottle label or through a QR code or website address on the label. In the United States, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau – the TTB – is preliminarily considering similar requirements.  

Several pioneering American winemakers have taken the bold step of voluntary disclosure. As one might suspect, these virtuous winemakers have nothing to hide, although several of their specific disclosures might turn heads amongst uninitiated or naïve wine consumers.

Ridge Vineyards, one of California’s most respected wineries, adds a list of ingredients to the back label of several of their wines. Here is the language for the highly regarded and expensive Ridge Monte Bello bottling: “Hand harvested, sustainably grown estate grapes, indigenous yeasts, naturally occurring malolactic bacteria, 2.4% water addition, calcium carbonate, oak from barrel aging, minimum effective SO2.”

This is a very straightforward presentation, with a list of ingredients I wouldn’t be averse to ingesting.

“Bacteria?” “Water?” These are natural ingredients many winemakers add to their wines to improve their quality. The harmless bacteria are naturally produced during the fermentation process; a portion may remain in the wine upon bottling. Water may be added to a wine during its aging process to compensate for overly ripe grapes or to reduce high levels of alcohol.

Informed consumers spend considerable time – and money – seeking out food products that conform to their lifestyle choices. Shouldn’t we be able to scrutinize wine in a similar fashion?

Nick Antonaccio is a 45-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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