Berger: Warning labels for wine?

The California Legislature has taken the first step toward putting warning labels on beverages containing high amounts of sugar, saying it contributes to health problems.

Can wine be far behind?

Warning labels are required on all alcoholic beverages ever since the Alcoholic Beverage Labeling Act of 1988 required them when it was made into law. At the time the wine industry was irate, saying no one would read the statement and that it added an unnecessary expense to wines.

And they added that such a statement would dissuade no wine lovers from buying their favorite sauvignon blanc.

Last week the California state Senate passed, and sent to the Assembly, a bill that would require beverages with added sugars to carry a statement that "Drinking beverages with added sugar contributes to obesity, diabetes and tooth decay."

Many wines these days contain sugars, such as Moscato, dessert wines, and even some of the new sweet red wines. As a result, some in the industry may fear that the soda-sweetness warning-label bill could eventually be extended to wine.

Have little fear. It's unlikely wine would ever be targeted for its sweetness content, and one key reason is the operative phrase "added sugars."

Almost all wines that are sweet do not have sugars added; any sugars in wine are usually the result of stopping the fermentation before all the sugar is turned into alcohol. (In California, it's not legal to use sugar in the making of wine.)

Another important point is that the sugar in all but the sweetest dessert wines is nominal, usually well under the level found in soft drinks. In most off-dry wines, like Riesling, the amount of sugar is rarely more than 3 percent.

Still, the California beverage bill is troubling because a few legislators would love to applaud themselves as doing something about a problem that otherwise has no real solution.

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