I have recently started doing some small tastings at our base in Nézignan l'Evêque or in private homes. They are always enjoyable, especially when those taking part have plenty of questions. One of the issues that comes up frequently is allergies/intolerances to wine and any other ingredients that might be in our bottles. Given that this is an issue which potentially affects millions of wine drinkers, perhaps there should be more information on the wine labels. In fact, when you look at some of the products used in vinification you wonder why this hasn't already happened. The first thing that people usually mention is sulphites. Just about every bottle of wine now carries the message "contains sulphites". These enter the wine via the vineyard, when the grapes are sprayed to protect against fungal disease, but also in the winery where it is used to prevent oxidation and to sterilise the wine before bottling. The amounts allowed depend upon whether the wine is conventional, organic etc, but that's another story. There is however, no wine, even if it states "sans sulphites ajoutés" that has no sulphites. They are a natural by-product of the fermentation process. Admittedly in low quantities, but sulphite-free wine does not exist. Ok, so we are warned about the sulphites but why can't we know how much sulphur is in each bottle? Too complicated for the winemakers? What else should go on our wine label? The most obvious thing, especially in today's world where vegetarianism and veganism are more and more mainstream, is to state what product has been used to carry out the fining process. After filtration, a product may be added to the wine to encourage any tiny solids that are still in the wine to clump together and precipitate to the bottom of the vat. Not everyone uses this proceedure, as a cold spell or just cooling the wine can do the job. The products that can be used are clay, egg-derived products, isinglass (made from fish bladder) and milk. Earlier this year I tried to hunt down some wine for a vegan client. Not easy. Two natural winemakers actually admitted that they had used egg-based products to fine their wine! These are not producers whose wines we sell, but I would have thought that any natural producer would avoid such a product or would state it on the label (mind you, the number of natural winemakers I've seen smoking cigarettes with 150 toxins in them, makes we wonder why they make natural wine at all). One explanation was that as the product sinks to the bottom and is discarded, it shouldn't be a problem. Believe it or not, wheat gluten is sometimes used to fine wine and to seal cracks in barrels. This is rare but should surely be mentioned on a label? I could go on, and the one product which probably should be indicated on any label is sugar. Some producers do chaptalize (the addition of grape must) their wines. The reason for this is either to raise the alcohol level if added pre-fermentation or to hide the wine's imperfections, most notably uncontrolled acidity. As an aside, this practice which was allowed in northern France at the turn of the 20th century was the catalyst for the 1907 uprising in the Midi. However, putting the amount of sugar that the wine contains on a label would unfairly penalise wines such as our local sweet Muscats. They have huge sugar levels, but none of it is added sugar as the fermentation is halted using pure alcohol leaving loads of residual sugar. Perhaps it should only be mentioned on the label on wines where sugar or grape must have been added? Unsurprisingly, Europe has been painstakingly slow in moving forward with this. There is draft legislation that states that any substance that remains active in the end ingredient should be mentioned. However, a group of players in the European wine industry have got together to form "In Vino Veritas", a consumer group aimed at providing total transparency for wine consumers. One of their members, Marco Bertagni, director of Must said: "Transparency means listing all ingredients (not just additives) that are not grapes or grape derivatives on labels". The EU is actively legislating against the use of certain products in wine, but this is aimed at producers. Until there are labels on wine, the consumer will forever be in the dark.
Don't hold your breath. Given that the big industrial winemakers probably have most
to lose, there will no doubt be plenty of lobbying going on in Brussels, and with most
of the EU's countries having wine industrys, this particular football could be spending
a while in the long grass...