17th August, 2011 by Rupert Millar
Austria and antifreeze
The celebrated “antifreeze scandal” (the wine trade has, thankfully, refrained from fixing “gate” to every case of wrong-doing in its history, unlike the mainstream media) of 1985 saw Austrian producers mixing diethylene glycol to increase their wines’ sweetness.
A limited number of Austrian wineries, mostly committed to bulk wine production, hit upon the idea of using the chemical in their wines to boost its sweetness before it was sent to Germany to be bottled, either as Austrian wine or, on occasion, mixed in with bulk German wine.
The ruse was discovered when one of the producers claimed for unusually large quantities of the stuff on his tax return bills and its presence was also confirmed by German laboratory tests.
The news made headlines around the world especially as diethylene glycol is often used in antifreeze.
Long-term consumption of the chemical is indeed very dangerous but the quantities involved in this particular case would have necessitated the uninterrupted drinking of dozens of bottles over several days to achieve lethal results.
Only one bottle, a Welschriesling Beerenauslese from Burgenland, exceeded the 40 grams needed for such an eventuality.
Still, Austrian wine exports crashed overnight from 45 million litres a year to just 4.4m and some countries banned imports altogether.
As an example of how a bad thing can lead to good, however, Austria’s years in the wilderness forced it to clean up its act, focus on winemaking and cut down on bulk wine.
Stricter wine laws were introduced and its re-emergence in recent years with the likes of Grüner Veltliner is an example to all.