Winemakers around the world generally agree that it would be a bad idea to require disclosure of precisely what is in a bottle of wine.
In theory an ingredient label might be nice, but such a label would be outrageously expensive to wineries and ultimately the consumer, would totally confuse the public, and have no positive benefit whatever.
I'm in agreement with wineries. The only result of an ingredient label would be to scare off wine consumers who might think that they would be getting a chemical soup.
Just about every bottle of grape wine in this world is made up of the fermented juice of grapes, leaving the bottle with some alcohol, some water, a tiny amount of flavors that came from the grape, and trace amounts of things like acids and sugars.
There are many legal additives to wine, but almost no one uses huge amounts of them. Wine actually is safer than some cities' tap water — and it usually tastes better, too.
Some alarmists suggest that wine has yeast and fining (clarifying) agents such as eggs. They claim that since all wine is made using yeast (to start the fermentation) and some of it is fined using egg whites, people with allergies have something to fear.
Nonsense. Almost all wine is clarified or filtered to remove elements used in its production. Decades ago, testing methods weren't anywhere near as accurate as they have become, and back then we could find nothing in wine but fermented grape juice.
But testing methods have come a long way since the time when we could find things down to parts per million. Today's detection methods allow for us to find things in parts per trillion, and at such levels, yes, there may be minute traces of things in wine that weren't there before.
Well, they were; we just couldn't detect them. And at the levels we can now find them, they are utterly harmless.
So I was amused the other day when a report out of Bloomberg News said French scientists tested 92 bottles of wine for pesticides and found traces in every bottle. It sounds like a scandal.
But reading more carefully, the article oddly did not suggest anyone was at risk for anything if they consumed any of the wines.
Moreover, the article quoting a "consumer organization" report, listed the microgram count of three of the 92 wines as being "high levels" of pesticides. It sounded scary — until you get to the sentence, "Those three wines and a Bordeaux ros?exceeded Swiss thresholds for phthalimide, a non-toxic substance formed by the fungicide folpet, the report showed."
So at its worst, the "consumer organization" report speaks of a non-toxic result with the worst wines. And the point is? And what about the 89 other wines in which pesticides were detected?
In more than 35 years of writing about wine, I have seen so-called scandals arise every few years. Most seem like good reading until you read very carefully and realize that the story is usually a non-story. Often the writer is not very skilled at translating scientific jargon, and buys the scare tactic hook, line, and Zinfandel.
For those who want to learn more about the triaging of newspapers and magazines where numbers are used, I heartily recommend "A Mathematician Reads the Newspaper," by John Allen Paulos. The author notes that the real meaning of any story containing numbers may not be evident on a first read. It's a fascinating analysis.