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Listing wine ingredients would ‘raise quality’, critic argues

The wine industry should list all ingredients in wine in order to raise the quality on offer and boost consumer engagement, a US wine critic has claimed.

Ridge Wines launched ingredients listing on its wines in 2013 in a bid to prompt greater transparency

Writing in an article in the New York Times International Edition, the NY Times wine critic Eric Asimov said US wine drinkers should have the opportunity to know what goes into the bottle, as they do with food, which would enable them to make an informed choice.

“The wine industry has long argued that consumers would find ingredients confusing and maybe incomprehensible. That may be true, but it is irrelevant,” Asimov argued. ‘With comprehensive labelling [on food], those who want to avoid artificial or suspect ingredients have the opportunity to do so. They should have the same opportunity with wine,” he said.

Growing consumer awareness in the US of the ingredients that go into food had been key in prompting a “food revolution” in recent years, he said, which had prompted consumers to ask more questions about where their food came from, how it was grown or raised, the ethics behind agricultural production and also its environmental impact, its food miles.

This in turn had “vastly improved” both the quality of, and pleasure taken in, food, he claimed – and the same approach needs to be adopted for wine consumption.

“The blind spot has kept many consumers from asking questions about how their wine is made, even though they may be hyperconscious of the origins of the food they eat,” Asimov wrote, arguing that the “processed”, “industrially farmed” assembly-line wines that fill shelves across the US retailers were designed to fulfil “specifications derived from substantial research and the use of focus groups”.

“Thinking about wine in the same way [as food] is a significant first step towards improving the quality of the wine you drink and the pleasure you take in it,” he argued.

Currently, wine and other alcoholic drinks are governed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which is part of the U.S. Treasury, rather than the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In recent years there has been a growing debate around the subject, with some wine retailers and winemakers arguing that many ‘misunderstood’ ingredients that are used to make wine would end up being vilified.  However in 2013, Californian wine producer Ridge Vineyards opted to promote transparency and its non-interventionist approach to winemaking by publishing ingredients on its labels, which winemaker Paul Draper, who won the Winemakers’ Winemaker Award at ProWein in 2013 before retiring from the company last year, admitted had hoped to prompt others to adopt ingredient labelling. This included not only every addition to the wines, but also an explanation of why and when water might be used, as well as egg whites and tartaric acid.

In the UK and EU, wine is exempt from showing a list of ingredients, although voluntary ingredients list can be included, but allergens warning must be shown if an allergenic ingredient is present above certain limits. For example wines from the 2012 vintage onwards which are produced using egg or milk as fining agents must give an allergens warning on the label if residues exceed 0.25mg/l, while the total sulphur dioxide level must be included if it exceeds 10mg/litre for wines bottled after 2005.

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