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Ingredients and Arguments: Government to the Rescue

I've long been a fan of full disclosure when it comes to labeling wine. I think the consumer should know exactly what the percentages of grapes are, where every single bit of them were grown, what vintage they come from (if they come from one different than the year on the label), if there have been any things added to "improve" the wine, like the infamous Mega Purple additive, and finally whether or not the grapes are "naturally" bred or whether they contain fish genes or other such GMO nonsense. All of these things I believe should be disclosed in fairness to the consumer -- that we might make fully informed choices about our wines.

And then there's the wine geek in me, who honestly would love to know whether the wine was fermented with native or inoculated yeasts, whether it was left on the lees, whether it was fined or filtered, how long it was aged, whether it had an extended maceration, etc. Of course, there's a limit to what can reasonably fit on a label.

Or is there?

If the government has its way, very soon most wine bottles will have an extra set of disclaimers on them that will usually (for at least 75% of all wine) read as follows:

This wine contains eggs, fish, and milk products.

If you're scratching your head at that one, join the crowd. Many wine industry groups are concerned that this new labeling requirement will leave consumers worried and confused.

The labeling requirement stems from the fact that most winemakers use at least one of these products in the course of making their wine, and some people are allergic to these things. Egg whites and casein (milk protein) are both used as fining agents (to remove sediment in the wine) while some filters use membranes made from the air bladders of freshwater fish.

This new legislative requirement has got every wine industry group under the sun hot and bothered because these products are not really IN wine. They are all things that the wine either passes through, or are things that are removed from wine prior to its bottling. Sure, there are probably a few parts per billion of these substances left in the wine, but there's probably that much of lots of other things that are worse for most people.

Of course, the other side of this argument is that for some people, allergic reactions are pretty serious business, and can lead to emergency room stays or worse. But there's precious little data (read: none) showing that anyone allergic to eggs, fish, or milk has ever had a reaction from drinking wine.

Which begs the question, so why do we need to add yet another warning to our wine labels when they're already jam packed with them already? It's not a 100% clear cut answer (which of course, is what makes legislation like this possible in a highly litigious climate of fear) but I'm tempted to side with the wine industry on this one.

How many people (allergic or not) are going to think twice about buying a bottle when they see it's got fish, milk, and eggs in it?

Read the full story. Thanks to Jack at Fork & Bottle for the tip.

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The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud