Tim James: Calories in wine and other labeling issues
By Christian Eedes, 14 December 2015
Do you think your wine drinking is making your fat? Ruining your Banting diet? One of Australia’s wine companies thinks it possible, and hopes that their new thing will make them seem appealingly on your side. Treasury Wine Estates (a big business rather more about brands than about estates, of course) recently announced that they are planning to provide calorie information for their bottled wine portfolio – Penfolds Grange is the most famous of their products.
This is, they proudly state, “a first for the global wine industry”. So why does it make me feel like yawning rather than righteously wanting to urge Distell to follow suit? Apart, of course, that I couldn’t afford Grange whatever its calorie count and wouldn’t, anyway, be much interested in most of what Treasury Estates has to offer.
“We recognise that consumers are increasingly interested in accessing the facts on calorie content to help them make more informed choices on alcohol consumption,” said a spokesperson. “We believe a commitment to providing calorie information on our brands is a positive step that leads the wine industry in responding to consumer interests in this important area.”
Yes, well, whatever. Are we expected to start choosing wines on the basis of their calorie count? Of course, some people do, which must be one of the reasons why some (mostly dreadful) low-alcohol wines are available. People who seriously count their calories are already aware that alcohol carries calories – seven per gram, in fact, there’s no mystery about the figure, and there’s plenty of general info about the subject easily available. It’s not hard to do an easy rough calculation from given alcohol levels declared on a wine label – or from the semi-jokey “Caloric Cuvée” glass pictured alongside. Except, of course, there is also the matter of residual sugar. A lovely low-alcohol Mosel riesling will carry a whack of calories there too – and quite a lot of ultra-ripe Australian (and South African) wine has a good few grams of sugar too. I rather doubt if the websites carrying the info promised by Treasury Wine Estates (there won’t be details on the labels – you have to go and look it up) will indicate how much of a wine’s calories comes from sugar, and how much from alcohol.
Of course, the other cynical aspect of this bit of marketing stuff is that the hardly-secret info on offer falls very short of full disclosure of the contents of wine. If wine big-business has this overwhelming urge to be honest about what’s in their wines, let’s rather have the sort of information that is mandatory about most foodstuffs, and no more pretence that most of the stuff is “natural”.
Testalonga wines can honestly say on some of their labels, “made from grapes” (implying “and nothing else” and so can some other wines (though generally one must ignore the aid of the agro-chemical industry in the vineyards). The long list of permitted additives to wine, not just here, but everywhere, is a little depressing, however. It would be useful – and rather shockinbg to some consumers – if it was required that all the yeasts, nutrients, enzymes, fining agents, etc etc be listed on the label, and not just those universal sulphites.
This is my last 2015 blog for this website, so let me wish you a blissfully calorific holiday season; may many of those calories come, uncounted, from good wine.
- Tim James is founder of Grape.co.za and contributes to various local and international wine publications. He is a taster (and associate editor) for Platter’s. His book Wines of South Africa – Tradition and Revolution appeared in 2013.