A sweet wine revelation that may prove bitter

From 2021, wine producers who sell their wines in the EU will have to reveal their ingredients. Robert Joseph has a few thoughts on what this might mean.

Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash
Photo by Plush Design Studio on Unsplash

For those who like to accumulate evidence of the way the EU interferes in their lives, the next two or three years are going to be quite fruitful. First, there’s the decision to halt the use of Summer Time across the entire region. Next, there’s the decision to oblige motor manufacturers to produce vehicles that automatically respect speed limits and, most pertinently for readers of this column, in 2021, labels of wine sold in the Community will have to include ingredient listing.

This is not a move that will be welcomed by many in the wine industry. Some will claim that back labels do not have enough space for such information – which will be countered by officials pointing out that, if it’s possible for Wrigley’s to respect this kind of rule on a pack of chewing gum, it ought to be practicable on a bottle of wine. Others will try to say that wine is somehow ‘different’ to the high volume beer brands like Budweiser, Coors and Miller, whose owners have undertaken to provide nutritional information and ingredients in the US by 2020.

These arguments are likely to fall on deaf ears. The only possible derogation could permit the use of a website address where the required material might be found, as an alternative to printing it all on, say, the back label of a bottle of la Tache or Lafite.

Most producers will in any case probably have little to hide, though having to admit to the use of Mega Purple and Gum Arabic may not be welcome to producers of some commercial wines.

But what about sugar? Opponents of ‘industrial’, ‘Coca Cola wines’ are metaphorically rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of Apothic and Yellow Tail having to reveal just how much residual sugar they contain. It remains to be seen how drinkers of these wines will react to the revelation that a half bottle of wine with 12g/litre of sugar will add less sugar to their diet than a medium-size butter croissant or a third of a standard cup of Starbucks Latte.

And then of course there’s the residual sugar in the less obviously ‘commercial’ wines of which the anti-industrial brigade is more likely to approve. These might not include Extra Dry Prosecco (up to 17g/litre), but they almost certainly would encompass ‘Sec’ Vouvray (up to 8g/l) and Alsace Riesling (up to 12g/l). It might be fairly argued that the sweetness in these wines (ones that don’t own up to being demi-sec or moelleux) is no less ‘secret’ than the jamminess of successful red blends. I’ve certainly been surprised – and annoyed – by the amount of residual sugar in what I expected to be dry examples of these wines.

To pin my own opinions to the mast, I actually welcome the introduction of ingredient listing for wine. I doubt that most consumers will take any notice of it but, it’s an inescapable step for an industry that likes to promote wine as a ‘natural’ and  ‘healthy’, and the EU may actually be doing us all a favour.

Robert Joseph

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