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.

6 Responses to “Listing wine ingredients would ‘raise quality’, critic argues”

  1. Keithp says:

    Wine is a transformational fermented product. What goes in to making it is not what is in the bottle in most cases. Ingredients is the wrong word, additives may be more correct but is still of little value in determining what is in the bottle. Also, with more and more regulation like this the smaller high quality and innovative producers will close. It leads to consolidation and less quality as found in manufactured products, not artisan ones. Also the larger more technologically proficient wineries will use high tech machinery to alter the wines by ion exchange, reverse osmosis, spinning cone. ultra and crossflow filtration, and other methods that achieve the same ends as fining agents but with destruction of colloidal structure and quality in the wines. We are becoming an idiocracy and need to rethink all this BS being thrust on us in the form of artisan and business destructive government regulation.

  2. I think that the key item here is defining what is an ingredient. Is it what is in the bottle of wine once it hits the shelves, or is it what is used in the process? Diatomaceous earth is a pretty common item for filtration. There shouldn’t be any diatomaceous earth left in the bottle when it is bottled. Is it an ingredient? I think it would sound bad on a label & it would be somewhat misleading if it were included, but leaving out fining & filtering agents might be misleading as well. An example would be isinglass. There shouldn’t be any left in the bottle, but vegan wine buyers absolutely would want to know about it. This is a more complex issue than most people are willing to admit.

  3. Thomas Kinkaid says:

    And I thought it was just fermented grape juice……

  4. Keithp says:

    Manufactured food is a commodity, comparing wine to a commodity product, even a branded one is to bring wine down to a box or bottle with writing all over it. Will put smaller winery businesses out of business. More regulation is only friendly to the larger wineries that do make what could be argued as being a commodity wine. Even things used in fining that may have allergic reactions are likely to have some residual in the ppb to ppt range and it does take a certain threshold of allergen to elicit an allergic reaction. They found DDT in over 10,000 year old arctic ice core samples. They can find anything in anything anywhere it seems.

  5. joe sheehy says:

    Ah Mr. Kinkaid fantastic….I use just grapes, cultured yeast (they seem more sophisticated than that wild yeast) and Potassium Sulfite or “Sulfites” as we are already required by law to list now. I use PVPP in helping settle the wine and remove any bitterness that I might have pickup during processing of the grapes, but then I microbiologically filter our wine to prevent any problems from occurring in the bottle later on.
    According to manufacture spec the PVPP is no longer in the wine at this level of filtration…is an ingredient or an additive would it be on a list of ingredients?

  6. Greg Linn says:

    Although the arguments above have merit, as a producer I am not in favor of rewriting labels and adding everything thats put into a bottle of wine. That would be debilitating financially to many small producers. However, I do agree that what is required already should be accurate. Their are laws that state Alcohol has to be put on the label, however with 1.5% spread above 14% and 1% spread below it is, in my opinion unfair to consumers and other producers not to dial in this number some. If a producer were to put 14% on a label but the real contents are 15 or 16% thats something a consumer has the right to know. It may be the difference between one glass of wine or two at dinner. And it may be the difference between that consumer being able
    to drive home safely. Last, many use the percentage as a selling tool, as lower Alcohol wines are marketed as such for obvious advantages. When someone works hard to lower yields to pick early and their by produces something different at great cost, he or she should have the added advantage of honesty transparency.

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