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  Editorial Issue 60, February 2008   
What Are Labels For?What Are Labels For?  Contents 
Issue 59, January 2008 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 61, March 2008

What Are Labels For?


 Labels found on wine bottles are useful, there is no doubt about this. What are they for? An apparently easy question, indeed very complex. They identify a product - in our case a wine and its bottle - allow consumers to recognize that wine, while trying to catch the attention of new ones and to convince them to buy it. After all, a wine, at the end of production, must be sold: an undeniable law of market and business. Labels are only useful for presenting a wine and to make it visible on the shelves, just to attract consumers as to convince them to buy that bottle? If we look at the way labels are “made” and “presented”, this seems to be the main reason. If we carefully look wine labels, most of the information seem not to play the primary function of “giving information”, indeed to “convince” consumers that bottle contains the best wine in the world.


 

 No objection for this marketing principle, however it should be remembered final users of this market are consumers, and they should not be considered only numbers to be counted at the end of the year, during that period in which one usually assesses a profit or a loss. Wine labels represent, in the wide beverage and food scene, a singular and “atypical” case. Wine is a beverage as well as a food, of course it is not an essential food for nutrition, but it is however undeniable it is swallowed and, as such, it has effects on the body, not only referred to the obvious effects of alcohol. If we take a look at the labels of packaged foods sold in shops, we can notice, among the many things, they do not have the primary function of presenting and promoting a product only, they also have the function of informing the consumer about the list of ingredients and additives used for its production. The same can be seen in the labels of beverages and liquors, with the exception of beer which - in this sense - has a strong connection with wine.

 To this observation many could simply answer there is no need to list the ingredients in a wine: what else could be said as everyone knows it is made from grapes? Right, wine can also be made from grapes, but in every wine there is not only grapes. Or better to say, the grape is not there anymore, as it was transformed into a new product through a chemical process, although natural, called “fermentation”. Even in case it is expressed like that, many could still say it is fermented grape juice, and this too is something everyone knows, therefore is it really necessary to state it on labels? The problem is that wine is not that only. Wine is an extremely complex beverage, fruit of a long process beginning with grape and its juice. And in this long process, if one wants to obtain a quality product, it is not wise to neglect the development of things without a little of control, without using techniques and “ingredients” in order to prevent the spoilage of wine.

 Among the many, the widely debated sulfur dioxide which, thanks to its antioxidant and antiseptic properties, allows the wine to keep in good shape without being subjected to the attacks of oxygen and of time. Regarding this, it should be remembered sulfur dioxide is widely used by the food industry, not only in wine making, and it is also found in many foods and beverages, sometimes being used in quantities higher than the one used for the production of wine. Sulfur dioxide is not the only added “ingredient” found in a wine and, in case it was not added by man, it should be known it is however produced by yeast during fermentation. Sulfur dioxide is in fact the only chemical component to which legislators pointed their fingers to, forcing the producers of many countries - in recent times, the producers of European Union as well - to state in the label its presence in the form of “contains sulfites” warnings.

 Sulfur dioxide is not the only “extraneous” component to be added to a wine. It just takes a visit to the laboratory of any winery to understand in wine is added more than sulfur dioxide. Absolutely legal substances, no doubt about this, but of which no law requires producers to state their usage in labels. According to this point of view, current laws are very permissive and lacking, as in most of wine labels is not even found the list of grapes used for its production, as if grape variety would be irrelevant. Whoever is interested in wine - even a little - knows very well every grape gives the wine absolutely unique organoleptic qualities, therefore knowing the name of grapes used for the production of a wine is important. This could be objected by saying in the production of food there is no requirement in stating the variety of ingredients used, and grape - after all - is an ingredient of wine just like potatoes are for potato chips.

 What can be found in most of labels are just information for “convincing” consumers to buy that bottle, most of the times grapes and aging techniques are not even mentioned. Totally absent, with the exception of sulfur dioxide, the indication of other substances added during production. Everything is focused, in the most “detailed” cases, in praising that wine, of the care used for its production and that its quality is impeccable. A legal promotional message, no doubt about this, but is it acceptable a consumer does not know, honestly, what he or she is going to pour on the glass? Even though all the components added to a wine contribute to its stability, integrity and quality, is it not however right and honest to inform the consumer about the real content of a bottle? Of course, and this is a necessary clarification, not all the producers make a careless use of chemistry or other ingredients in order to improve their product, but it is however undeniable many wines are indeed a miracle of alchemy going far beyond the fermentation of grapes. In order to safeguard the most honest and scrupulous producers, as well as consumers, would not it be right to state in the label the list of ingredients used in a wine?

 




   Share this article     Summary of Editorial column Wine Tasting 
  Editorial Issue 60, February 2008   
What Are Labels For?What Are Labels For?  Contents 
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