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Robin Garr

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Wine Advisor: Who wants wine nutrition labeling?

by Robin Garr » Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:30 pm

(This week's 30 Second Wine Advisor)

Who wants wine nutrition 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.

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.

"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 abot 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 consumers' 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.
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Michael Grossman

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Re: Wine Advisor: Who wants wine nutrition labeling?

by Michael Grossman » Fri Mar 15, 2019 3:48 pm

I don't see a need for any such labels. It seems to me like another intrusion into my life by do gooders who think they know what is best for me. No thank you. There are so many different reasons why people choose one wine over another or one type of wine over another and none of them seem to me to be related to any such information as the ingredients label would require. Wine and liquor are already subject to strict labeling requirements. Is there really any need for more?
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David M. Bueker

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Re: Wine Advisor: Who wants wine nutrition labeling?

by David M. Bueker » Fri Mar 15, 2019 4:00 pm

Michael Grossman wrote:I don't see a need for any such labels. It seems to me like another intrusion into my life by do gooders who think they know what is best for me. No thank you. There are so many different reasons why people choose one wine over another or one type of wine over another and none of them seem to me to be related to any such information as the ingredients label would require. Wine and liquor are already subject to strict labeling requirements. Is there really any need for more?


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Tim York

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Re: Wine Advisor: Who wants wine nutrition labeling?

by Tim York » Fri Mar 15, 2019 4:38 pm

Essential information: alcoholic degree. Useful information: sugar and acidity g/l.
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Steve Slatcher

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Re: Wine Advisor: Who wants wine nutrition labeling?

by Steve Slatcher » Sat Mar 16, 2019 5:02 am

It is clear to me that wine cannot be treated like "any other food or drink", and having an ingredients list is problematic and unhelpful.

For most other products the makers know the ingredients because they actually added them, so all they have to declare those items on the label. But wine is made by a number of process - fermentations, finings, maturation - in which non-grape materials might be used but does not actually finish up in the wine as ingredients. Inoculated yeasts affect the result but need not finish up in the bottle at all, finings are practically all removed from the final product, and oak chips merely impart a flavour.

On the other hand, some readily identifiable chemicals that people might object to - sulphur is a good example - can come from the grapes themselves.

I am all for information about winemaking process being made available - though not necessarily on the label, and it should not be too onerous on small producers - but "we" need to carefully consider what information should be made mandatory. It is not at all as simple as saying we need an ingredients list.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Who wants wine nutrition labeling?

by David M. Bueker » Sat Mar 16, 2019 10:48 am

And it’s not even handed. The whole “sulfites” issue is a perfect example.

The bins of dried fruit at the store don’t have a big warning label, and they have way more than even the most heavily dosed wine.
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Re: Wine Advisor: Who wants wine nutrition labeling?

by Steve Slatcher » Sat Mar 16, 2019 7:31 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:And it’s not even handed. The whole “sulfites” issue is a perfect example.

The bins of dried fruit at the store don’t have a big warning label, and they have way more than even the most heavily dosed wine.

In the EU, the presence of allergens (including sulphur dioxide) must be indicated where loose food is sold. Does not need to be a "big warning label" but there are regulations about what is and is not acceptable.

Packaged dried fruit has an ingredients list. And sulphur dioxide is listed there in a bold font, which is the standard way to indicate allergens, as explained below the list.

If wine had an ingredients list, I suppose the warning could be flagged in the same way. At least that would put wine and sulphur on the same footing as other foods, rather than making it appear extra scary.

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