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Friday Fishwrap
“Just Say No” To The Wrong Label Info

By Stephen Eliot

Is detailed ingredient labeling on wine useful? A recent Palate Press posting asked the simple question “do you really want to know” with respect to specific ingredients and techniques in any given wine. My simple answer is “not particularly”.

Let me be clear. I am very much a label reader when I go shopping for foods. I have reached the age where I pay attention to things like sodium and saturated fats and grams of carbohydrates per serving. I know what those mean; there are convincing scientific reasons for me to watch what I eat, and I do not chose what tastes best if I know that I am putting myself in harm’s way. I am, however, far less concerned about knowing every last detail about how a wine is made and what might be in it than I am about what it tastes like and whether or not it is any good. Other than drinking too much of the stuff, I have yet to hear of any dangers about which I need to be warned.

There is now a growing movement, we are told, that wants to see ingredient labeling and disclosure about winemaking technique on every bottle of wine. I suspect that the “movement”, much like the one clamoring for lower alcohols, is not all that significant in real numbers but may have a far bigger voice than its population predicts.

At the forefront of the parade, of course, are the advocates for “natural” and “minimalist” wines. I get a feeling that the calls for ingredient labeling, termed “transparency” by its advocates, are founded less on conscientious concern for the consumer and more on firming up the legitimacy of the “natural” bunch. You can bet that if ingredient labeling were to become mandatory “less is best” would quickly become even more of a marketing tool than it already is.

I have no issue with those who would chose to include anything they would like on the label of their wines, but I do not get the sense that there is imminent need with regard to public health nor is there really a large, grass-roots movement of wine drinkers who really care. As Caroline Henry, author of the Palate Press piece, rightly pointed out, “A list of additives, processes and agents used in winemaking methods would be incomprehensible to the majority of consumers…” I could not agree more. I know far more about such things than said majority of consumers, and I simply cannot see how those “additives, processes and agents” are in any way predictive indexes of character and quality. What I do see, however, is a monumentally difficult task of identification, oversight and regulation that detailed ingredient labeling would demand, and I am still left with the question as to what end.

I am much more interested in knowing the basic technical data like accurate alcohol readings, residual sugar, total acidity and pH. It is not that those numbers are necessarily predictive, but at least they are more helpful than a bunch of winemaking process information.

Until such time as someone can prove that this or that winemaking ingredient in inherently dangerous or that one winemaking approach is quantifiably superior to another, I am content to taste and seek out advice from trusted voices in finding wines that I like. That is the message that Brian Loring left in the comments section the other day, and I endorse that view.

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point of info.
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:7/13/2012 7:37:47 AM

The reason there isn't ingredient labeling on wine labels has nothing to do with what's in or not in the wine. It has simply to do with the federal regulators that are responsible for wine as opposed to the regulators responsible for food.

IF the FDA had the authority instead of the Treasury Dept, wine labels would have listed ingredients a long time ago and the subject would have died right there--that is, if wine would have ever been considered food rather than booze!

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