– is honesty the best policy on wine labels?
Decanter reported back in May this year that top California producer Ridge Vineyards was backing full disclosure on wine labels of all ingredients. The article also references Bonny Doon vinyards who did this back in 2007. As two very fine producers, neither Ridge nor Bonny Doon have anything to hide, so it’s absolutely correct that they should have nothing to hide. At some £150 a bottle even for Ridge’s least expensive wines, you’d be pretty shocked to find out that there were any questionable additives in it.
Looking at the bigger picture, I wondered, how important is full disclosure? I have to admit to being one of those people that doesn’t pay too much attention to additives. I choose to eat a pretty decent diet, with not a great deal of processed foods in it. Consequently I don’t punish myself when I do slip up or don’t know exactly what’s in my food. I don’t pay a great deal of attention to what’s in my wine. I don’t have any allergies and although I am mildly intolerant to oily fish such as trout, mackerel and anchovies, the worst they will cause is an upset stomach. So it’s hard for me to appreciate the importance of the full disclosure debate.
I decided to do some investigating online to find out what might be in my wines. There’s a great article here on The Wine Folly site that lifts the lid on some of the more common additives. Mostly I was aware of these ones, and unless the dried swim bladder of a fish used in fining was mackerel and accidentally got left in the bottle, I couldn’t see anything to really bother me. But then, I do choose my wines carefully. I don’t like mass-produced bland whites and sickly sweet roses and horrible cheap blackcurrant cordial Merlots. I avoid them like the plague. When I have had the misfortune to drink them, I have found myself thinking ‘how did they get it to taste so awful and confected?’ The best way I can describe it is that feeling you get about five minutes after you have finished eating a McDonald’s. The satisfaction wears off, and a sense of foreboding evil and utter futility creeps in, along with the nagging feeling that the only thing that will make you feel better is another McDonalds. And it can only be caused by unpleasant additives.
McDonalds have taken a slating in the wake of books like Fast Food Nation and films like Super Size Me – resulting in something of an image overhaul and the addition of salad items to their menu. Has this helped to curb the obesity crisis in the US? Doesn’t really seem like it, does it? So, should the wine equivalent of McDonalds be forced to disclose all the additives that contribute towards their shudder-inducing flavours? What would be the impact?
Well, with the prospect of having to disclose the many evils that flavour their wines, a few of the mass-producing wineries might be embarrassed into making a few changes for the better. That can only be a good thing. And there will be others that won’t give a damn, they will proudly list all the ingredients on their labels and the people who love them will buy them anyway because they don’t care what’s in them, they like them just the way they are, and they might even pick up a cheeky McDonalds on the way home too. And at the other end of the spectrum, there might be wineries that have been using additives for years and charging a good deal for their wines – maybe it’s time they took a leaf out of Ridge and Bonny Doon’s book and made changes for the better. No one wants to admit that they cheat – I made a beef bourgignon last night that was saved from blandness at the last minute by the addition of Marmite and Branston Pickle. Now while they are hardly additives that were going to make my guests ill, if I’d just followed the recipe properly in the first place I probably wouldn’t have had to salvage it at the last minute. I opted to disclose my additives to my guests in the end because the whole dish had an overwhelming Marmite flavour that was hard not to notice.
Ultimately, I find myself agreeing with Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon who observed that while consumers didn’t really seem to care one way or another about full disclosure on their wines, it had been the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean I’ll be trawling through the ingredients for the wine with the least additives, as unless it has a whole mackerel floating in it, I’m confident it won’t harm me. But I like to know that as a consumer, I have access to the information, just in case.