Who wants wine ingredient labeling?

For at least a dozen years, an army of health and consumer advocacy groups in the U.S. and Europe has repeatedly called on government to require that wine bottles carry health and nutrition information.

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Through all that time, the wine industry – with few exceptions – has resisted all such efforts, declaring that such labeling would do no one any good and would be terrible for business.

Now the issue is on the table again, as a consortium of U.S. pressure groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Consumer Federation of America, and the National Consumers League, have called on the federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to write a new proposal for wine labeling. “Consumers of alcoholic beverages deserve the clear, consistent labeling that has long been available to other beverages,” the organizations wrote.

“So, one side thinks nutrition and labels are a good thing for wine, while the wine industry is generally much cooler to the idea,” Becca Yeamans-Irwin wrote yesterday in her excellent blog, The Academic Wino. “What would happen if ingredient and nutrition labels became mandatory for wine? Would people start buying less of it? More? Would anyone actually care?”

Would anyone actually care about wine ingredient labeling? This may be the most important question in the long-simmering issue. Wineries largely oppose labeling requirements for fear that consumers will be put off by discovering trace elements in wine that might range from eggshells or fish bladders (historically used to clarify wine) to modern ingredients like Mega Purple, a commercial ingredient used to impart a deeper, darker color. Not to mention oak chips or the much-feared sulfites.

Pressure groups including the  Center for Science in the Public Interest would like to see a wine label that looks like this.

Pressure groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest would like to see a wine label that looks like this.

“Studies have shown that consumers, in general, are interested in knowing what’s in a given food product as well as its nutritional content,” Yaemans-Irwin wrote. But, “some research indicates that what consumers say about how they feel regarding these kinds of labels does not predict their actual purchasing behavior. So, the consumer might say nutrition and ingredient labels negatively influence their opinions on a given product, but when it comes to their actual purchasing behavior at the grocery store, they aren’t purchasing that particular product any less than they did before nutrition and ingredient labels on food became mandatory.”

In fact, one Australian study discovered that posting calorie information on wine labels had unintended consequences: Some consumers were angry about being informed, while others chose to reduce the amount of food they ate so that they could still drink the same amount of alcohol, “which would possibly result in increased intoxication and the opposite effect of labeling that some groups are probably hoping for.”

In general, she added, “consumers are interested in seeing nutrition and ingredient information on alcoholic beverages. However, even though consumers say they would like this information, studies have shown that they don’t actually understand what they are reading when they are presented with these details.”

The blog post is long, detailed, and fascinating, with information about many studies on labeling and consumer attitudes and behavior. I commend it to your attention on The Academic Wino site. Click here to read it all.

Or, cutting to the chase, “In summary, despite the negative statements made by participants when directly asked about nutritional/ingredient information on the back label of a wine bottle, the indirect/observational part of the experiment showed that this information doesn’t really matter and that this information wouldn’t change a consumer’s purchase behavior.”

Does this mean that the wineries win? Not necessarily. But if there’s substantial evidence that nutrition and ingredient labels on wine don’t serve their intended purpose, then it’s worth asking whether substantial investment in this effort is justified.

What do you think? Let’s hear your thoughts on wine ingredient labels on our online WineLovers Discussion Group and on our WineLovers Facebook Page.


Today’s Tasting Report

We’re looking into Nebbiolo in this month’s Wine Focus in the WineLovers Discussion Group. Barolo and Barbaresco are the fancy options for this excellent Northwestern Italian variety, and more power to you if you’ve got a cellar full. It’s also possible to find value in varietally labeled Nebbiolo, mostly from Italy but also here and there around the wine world. Let’s pull corks and start tasting this Italian icon! Here’s my first report, a relatively affordable varietal Nebbiolo from the Langhe region of Italy’s Piemonte. You’re invited to come and post your Nebbiolo reports.

Cozzo Mario 2015 “Surì Mesdì” Langhe Nebbiolo ($19.99)

Cozzo Mario

Cozzo Mario

This 100 percent Nebbiolo from the Langhe is a medium garnet color shading to a clear edge. Its attractive scent of plums adds an earthy hint of red clay and a faint back note of wildflowers. Good, mouth-filling red fruit is framed by fresh acidity and soft tannins. Tart plums, earth, and bright acidity last in a very long finish. 13.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Martin & Co. Wines Inc., Crescent Springs, Ky.; Tradizione Imports, NYC., and other regional importers. (March 2, 2019)

The winery suggests braised meats, game, and cheeses, and those should all make fine companions. The Impossible Burger 2.0 filled in remarkably well in place of beef.

WHEN TO DRINK: It’s ready to enjoy, especially with appropriate food, but it should last, and possibly improve, for three to five more years.

This classy red is fairly priced in the lower to middle $20 range.

Here’s a short info sheet on this wine from Tradizione Imports.

Wine-Searcher.com lists a limited roster of vendors for Cozzo Mario “Surì Mesdì” Langhe Nebbiolo on Wine-Searcher.com.

Tradizione Imports also lists several New York City shops on this information page.


More affordable wines

Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10 or less that I’ve told you about during the past year or two. Please tell us about your favorites!

  • Laroque 2016 Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
  • Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
  • Alamos 2015 Salta Torrontés ($9.99)
  • Alamos 2015 Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
  • Caposaldo 2014 Chianti ($8.99)
  • d’Arenberg 2012 McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
  • Oveja Negra 2014 Maule Valley Cabernet Franc – Carmenere Reserva ($9.99)
  • Côté Mas 2016 “Rouge Intense” Sud de France Pays d’Oc ($12.99/1 liter)

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