Truth in Package Labeling: On a Wine Bottle?

Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

When 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 non-shrink-wrapped meats in supermarkets? Current regulations are not always effective in 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 and before GMO products and Monsanto corn.

Conscientious consumers have more food information available today than ever before. However, the availability of nutritional and health information still has a few wide gaps.

When consumers prepare a meal of the most healthful foods in the marketplace, they sit at the 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, flavor, even suggestions for food pairing. All with the implied intent of making a consumer’s decision-making process easier. The more information the better, right?

Maybe. Does nice-to-know trump need-to-know?

In the face of this lack of mandatory ingredients labeling, many consumers might question any need for 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 man-made 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, 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 amount of the wine unaware Americans consume.

The industry has successfully resisted any form of disclosure. However, 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 mind 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 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

 

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