| The is disagreement in Europe over what is an ingredient of wine and what is not.
Lawmakers want more accurate labeling of wine, but producers are crying foul, Barnaby Eales reports.
What’s in my bottle of European wine? Mainly fermented grape juice, but what else has it been made with? We may soon get answers, when the EU adopts rules on the mandatory listing of wine ingredients and nutritional information on labels.
Until now, EU wine, unlike food, has been exonerated from the obligation to list ingredients other than allergens. European wine producer trade groups have to list wine ingredients, however, industry divisions have emerged over which substances used to make wine should be defined as ingredients, and whether they should be listed on labels, or off-label via QR bar codes.
Draft European Commission legislation on the mandatory listing of wine ingredients is expected to classify additives – substances that remain active in the end product – as ingredients.
But this year, leading Italian wine industry bodies Alleanza delle Cooperative, Assoenologi, Coldiretti, consumer association Federconsumatori and the grape must and juice association, Must, are joining southern French wine producers to launch In Vino Veritas, a new consumer campaign which aims to promote transparency in wine production.
“Transparency means listing all ingredients [not just additives] that are not grapes or grape derivatives on labels,” said Marco Bertagni, director of Must.
The rise in production of low-intervention natural, biodynamic, and organic wine suggests that consumers want to know what they are drinking.
It is uncertain whether the listing of wine ingredients and nutritional information on labels, including the amount of sulfur added to wines, would have any impact on the wine choices most wine consumers make.
Bertagni, however, said the campaign would include a call for “added sugar” on back labels for wine made using chaptalization, a method whereby sucrose is added to wine pre-fermentation to raise the potential alcohol level.
European wine trade group CEEV, which represents big EU wine producers, claims that processing aids used in wine production, such as sucrose, are not ingredients.
“Some people are confused about what a list of ingredients is. Processing aids are not ingredients,” said CEEV general secretary, Ignacio Sanchez Recarte.
Processing aids are substances which can leave traces of compounds in the end product in wine, but which do not, unlike food additives, play any active role in the final product, according to Europe’s Food Standards agency, Codex.
Through chaptalization, sucrose turns to alcohol, and is not present as sugar in the end product. But the method also increases volume in wine and dilutes it by unbalancing flavors, especially if alcohol levels are raised by more than 1 percent.
Chaptaliszation is associated with the cooler climates of northern European regions, including Champagne, but the 2018 vintage led some southern European producers to enrich their wines using concentrated and rectified grape must. This highlighted southern European concerns over the European Union’s asymmetrical enrichment rules, which allow northern and eastern European producers to use sucrose to enrich their wines.
Thomas Montagne, Chairman of CEVI, the European Association of Independent Vintners, said the question of sugar would become one of the key sticking points in negotiations between the wine industry, the EC and legislators.
New EU rules on enological practices, which harmonize EU legislation with the OIV’s (International Organisation of Vine and Wine) wine standards, came into force in December, 2019.
The rules define authorized enological substances used in wine production as either additives or processing aids.
An annex to the rules defines enzymes and clarifying agents as processing aids. Sucrose is not mentioned. Meanwhile, preservatives and antioxidants, including sulfur dioxide and acidity regulators tartaric, malic and lactic acids and calcium sulphate, are listed as additives. Dimethyl dicarbonate (DMDC), a chemical used to combat brettanomyces in wine, is classified as an additive.
The rules form the basis of industry negotiations on the listing of ingredients and nutritional information. However, in April this year Codex said it was holding talks with the OIV over whether the chemical should be defined as an additive.
Professor Dr Simone Loose, head of the Wine and Beverages Department at Germany’s Geisenheim University, said that the definition of processing aids and ingredients was now crucial to labelling legislation.
The CEEV has asked the EC for detailed, clear and adapted rules to avoid industry confusion and uncertainty.
It argues that wine production is already subject to the most transparent and controlled legal framework, which limits the number of processes in order to preserve the natural and essential characteristics of products, thus preventing any substantial change in the composition of the product.
The EC wants wine labeling rules on wine ingredients to fall largely in line with food in terms of product disclosure, a move which could also affect wine exports to the EU.
The EC said new labelling rules would be made through the reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy post-2020 and established in line with the same provisions of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation (EU No 1169/2011) that apply to any other foodstuffs.
It added that rules for wine would be adapted to wine production specifications laid down in EU law.
Last Spring, the EC said a wine industry self-regulatory proposal over the listing of wines ingredients had failed to convince the EU’s executive that it would meet consumer requirements, hence the need for mandatory rules.
In April last year, the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee passed a motion which said: “Wine labels should include the product’s nutrition declaration, or at least its energy value, and the list of ingredients, or the direct link to where the list can be found.”
The CEEV and CEVI said wine producers were now assessing ways to provide a list of ingredients off label using electronic formats. Industry critics have, however, accused them of attempting get around the obstacle of transparency by lobbying for the listing ingredients off-label, via QR codes, which most consumers would not use.
Dr Loose said the European wine industry would need a legal exemption to the listing of ingredients off label. “No other food industry has been able to obtain this so far. All of them have to display ingredients and nutritional information on their labels.”