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Update: Nutrition and ingredient labels for wine

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Nutrition and ingredient labels for wineThe Wine Curmudgeon’s views on nutrition and ingredient labels for wine are well known: The wine business is missing an opportunity to reach younger consumers by stonewalling the labels.

But not everyone shares my view, and my piece in the current issue of the Beverage Media trade magazine looks at the topic from a variety of perspectives. The highlights of the article, as well as a few of my thoughts, are after the jump:

Winebits 306: Grape shortage, Bogle, wine labels

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So much for the experts: Last week’s report that the world was facing an imminent grape shortage and a corresponding leap in prices sent the wine world into a minor fluff. Eventually, common sense prevailed and the news was discounted for what it was — at the very least odd and at the very most suspicious. There is no grape shortage, and the best reporting on the subject was done, as usual, by Lew Perdue at Wine Industry Insight. Stacy Finz at the Chronicle in San Francisco contributed a very sensible piece as well. Most telling was this bit in Finz’s article: “The report’s authors, Tom Kierath and Crystal Wang of Morgan Stanley’s Australian consumer and beverage branch, declined to be interviewed.” My experience, after some 30 years as a reporter, is that when someone doesn’t want to defend what they wrote or said, then there isn’t much reason to pay attention to it.

Wine drinkers know a good thing: Bogle, the $10 wine that has been in the cheap wine Hall of Fame as long as there has been a Hall of Fame, continues to sell lots and lots and lots of wine. Shanken News Daily, the web news service (and part of the Wine Specator empire — oh delicious irony), reports that the company’s sales rose nearly 16 percent in 2012 to 1.75 million cases. That makes Bogle one of the biggest dozen or so producers in the country, and it has almost doubled its sales in the past 18 months since I interviewed Ryan Bogle. The Shanken article credits the quality of the Bogle wines for the label’s success, though in a very Winestream Media way, citing points — “more than 30 scores of 87 points or higher from Wine Spectator” — as proof of quality. Though, to be honest, as annoying as that is, I don’t know why I would expect anything different.

An easier to read wine label, please: Lou Marmon, one of the best wine writers that not enough people know about, has a fine take on the foolishness that passes for wine labels these days. “Clearly front labels are critical to wine marketing,” he writes, “but is there any reason why they cannot be more accurate and informative?” Marmon details all the agonies involved in reading a wine label, whether misleading terms like “old vines,” cute labels, and variation in alcohol content. And, he points out, that doesn’t include the difference between European and U.S. labels, which take the subject in another, albeit equally confusing, direction.

Nutrition labels coming to wine — finally

Wine serving factsThe labels are voluntary, and wineries that don’t want to add them don’t have to. But voluntary is better than nothing, given the long and tortured history of the proposal.

The plan to add basic calorie, alcohol, and serving information to wine, also called serving facts, has been hanging around Washington even longer than the blog has been in existence — held hostage by the recession, a change in administrations, and the foolishness that passes for government in Washington. In addition, there was determined opposition from most of the beer, wine, and spirits industries, which saw the nutrition labels as costly and burdensome.

So the government agency that regulates liquor came up with the voluntary compromise, no doubt goaded by the biggest booze companies in the world. Diageo, among others, sees it as giving those who use it a competitive edge, and they’re right. Which of us wouldn’t be glad to see this information on a wine label?

A winery that wants to add the labels won’t need to do anything other follow the samples in this link, says Michael Kaiser of the Wine America trade group. Hopefully, many will do it, since the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term costs. An informed consumer is more likely to buy a product than consumers kept stumbling around in the dark by an industry that still acts, in many ways, as if Prohibition just ended.

And mandatory labeling? If and when that happens is anyone’s guess, says Kaiser. And his group still opposes it.

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