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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ingredient labeling on wine bottles

A topic that comes up now and again is, should wineries have full disclosure of what goes into the bottle? It's just grapes, right? Well, no.

I suppose it starts will the bins of grapes coming into the wine making facility with the bees, earwigs, and spiders plus additional Material Other than Grapes. But no, that's not what we're talking about here. The folks kicking around the idea of full disclosure on wine labels are in favor of things like added acid, water, sulfur, tannins, whether egg whites are used to fine the wine, other chemicals added, maybe even yeasts and oak chips, etc.
There's a bit more to winemaking than this
Image from

This doesn't get much support. Why? For one, the winemakers (or any other business person) would just as soon keep the government out of their business as much as possible. For another, I believe certain wineries could be a bit embarrassed and maybe think they'll lose business if they actually list everything that went into their wine.

In fact per American law for a wine to be called by a certain varietal name, like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, it must contain 75% of that particular grape. It doesn't matter what grapes make up the other 25%. Your Pinot Noir might be 80% Pinot, 15% Petite Sirah, and 5% Chenin Blanc. Not that anyone has ever done that, but it's not illegal.

Then you get into processes, rather than ingredients, like removing alcohol. Do you add that to the label? The wineries definitely don't want to see this. How about any chemicals used to spray the grapes? Nobody else does this so grape growers won't, but then there's things like organically grown, organic wine, and sustainably farmed. What exactly is the difference?

The biggest embarrassment is probably the addition of water to the wine. This is a fairly new process. It started with the ripe fruit style of wines that's become so popular in the last decade or so. The grapes are picked later (riper) to get that bold fruit. After fermentation there is more alcohol from the higher sugar levels so the popular method of reducing this is to just add water to dilute the wine. This process doesn't get talked about much by wineries because they believe it to be a negative with the consumer.

There can be a lot of chemistry especially when the fruit isn't particularly good. But do we need to know all this? We probably don't need to know it as there's no public danger, but more and more Americans want to know what goes into their body.