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Truth in Wine Labeling

Several months ago, we referred to an attempt by several of the large wine conglomerates to “water down” the labeling law which currently requires a vintage claim to be 95% accurate. Last month we reprinted an article on the health benefits of resveratrol and possibly other polyphenols. This month we take at a look at resveratrol levels and the labeling of alcohol content by way of an interesting new publication called Truth in Wine (; 866-TruthWN to subscribe). E ach quarter they will analyze many components of some of the more commonly sold wines with the aim of determining which wines are healthiest.

The wines analyzed by Truth in Wine are national brands. We carry most of them, but they are popular, mass-produced wines of mostly mediocre quality that we rarely recommend. It would be impractical to expect an analysis of the hand-crafted, limited production, higher quality wines that a specialty wine shop like ours carry and promote; none-the-less, the results are interesting. The data are presented in table form. I have taken the liberty of eliminating a few wines and some of the less interesting information. (Did you really need to know that Woodbridge Chardonnay contains .4% protein? If you’re drinking wine for your protein source, you are in big trouble!) A discussion and conclusions will follow next month.

  Alcohol Alcohol Sugar Sulfites Polyphenols Catechins Resveratrol
  Actual % Labeled % ppm. mg/gram mg/175g mg/liter
RED WINES TESTED              
Yellow Tail Merlot 11.1 13.5 0.5 103 3.26 102.4 2.00
Rosemount Shiraz 10.9 14 0.2 104 3.22   84.7 2.01
Columbia Crest Merlot/Cab 10.8 13 0   99 3.20   93.6 0.60
Clos du Bois Merlot 10.8 13 0 140 3.24   93.1 2.28
Blackstone Merlot 10.7 13 0.4 152 3.05 116.9 1.11
Beringer Founders Cab 10.5 13.3 0 198 3.62   83.6 0.39
BV Coastal Cab 10.5 13 0 122 3.40   69.5 0.43
Rodney Strong Cabernet 10.5 13.8 0 140 3.76   77.3 1.19
Concha y Toro Merlot 10.3 13 0.4 231 2.77   78.4 5.95


  Alcohol Alcohol Sugar Sulfites Polyphenols Catechins Resveratrol
  Actual % Labeled % ppm. mg/gram mg/175g mg/liter
WHITE WINES TESTED              
Woodbridge Chardonnay 11.2 13.5 0 224 0.41 58.3 0.14
Fetzer Chard 11.1 13.5 0.4 184 0.39 39.8 0.11
Kendall Jackson VR Chard 11.0 13.5 0.6 201 0.48 26.4 0.22
Ch. St. Michelle Chard 10.8 13 0.1 208 0.40 39.5 0.09
Lindemans Bin 65 Chard 10.7 13.5 0.3 241 0.52 58.9 0.34
Vendange Chard 10.7 13 0.6 215 0.39 34.6 0.29
Corbett Canyon Chard 10.7 13 0.6 174 0.36 27.9 0.09
Glen Ellen Chard 10.6 13 0.5 154 0.30 27.9 0.09
E & J Gallo Chard 10.6 13.5 0.7 153 0.27 15.4 0.09
Duboueuf Francais Blanc 10.4 12 0 287 0.47 28.5 0.29
Sutter Home Chard 10.0 13 0.9 205 0.42 36.1 0.09
Bella Serra Pinot Grigio   9.7 12 0.3 308 0.34 13.5 1.66
Bolla Soave   9.7 12 0.2 199 0.30 9.8 0.16
Cavit Pinot Grigio   9.6 12 0.4 276 0.35 14.4 0.09
Almaden Mt. Chablis   9.4 11.5 0.8 233 0.33 7.3 0.09
Franzia Chablis (5L box)   8.8 11 1.1 212 0.35 10.2 0.09
Livingston Cellars Chablis   8.4 10.5 1.1 240 0.33 10.7 0.09
Carlo Rossi Chablis   8.2 10.5 1.6 172 0.32 15.2 0.09

Truth In Wine’s (; 866-TruthWN to subscript) goal is to identify the healthiest wines. Although they present an overall health ranking for each wine they analyze, I find this information less than useful since it depends on subjective decisions as opposed to scientific conclusions. For example, is it better to have high levels of resveratrol (an anti-oxidant) or high levels of polyphenols (other anti-oxidants)? Carlo Rossi Chablis has among the lowest level of sulfites, but the highest level of sugar. Is that good or bad? There is currently no scientific way to answer these questions.

A Question of alcohol     
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms regulates wine labels. Federal regulations allow a great deal of leeway (+1.5%) when an alcohol level is stated in a label. That is, if 12.5% alcohol is claimed on the label, it is permissible for the actual level to be anywhere from 11.0% to 14%. Not much of an accurate guarantee! Some wineries, especially the smaller ones, accurately label their wines, but they don’t legally have to. My opinion is that some leeway is necessary since the alcohol level of a wine varies from year to year, and wineries don’t want the added expense of printing new labels each year. But +1.5% is close to useless if you really want to know the alcohol content of a specific wine. A leeway of +0.5% would give the consumer more accurate information and would still be fair to the larger wineries.

Truth In Wine’s test results are outrageous. Not one of the wines they tested meets the current weak legal requirement for accuracy. Every wine is substantially lower in alcohol than the level claimed on the label. The average discrepancy is 2.4%! The best is the Duboeuf Table White (1.6%); the worst are Rodney Strong Cab (3.3%!) and Rosemount Shiraz (3.1%).

Why are there such discrepancies? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these wines were literally watered down (a practice that is legal), stretching the production but reducing the alcohol and the flavor. Remember that these are mass-produced, popular wines. These results almost definitely do not hold true for the smaller production, better quality wines that we at Beekman’s generally recommend. If cheap schlock is what someone wants, they should buy good wine and water it down themselves. At least it would taste better!

There’s nothing wrong with a sweet wine that’s supposed to be sweet. But I object to supposedly dry table wines carrying a load of sugar. There are two reasons a winemaker would allow a significant amount (>0.2%) of sugar in a supposedly dry wine: 1) to soften the apparent acidity, or 2) to hide flavor defects. The wines by Lindeman, Bella Sera, Blackstone, Cavit, Fetzer, and Concha y Toro have enough sugar to soften their acidity (0.3-0.4%). Yellow Tail, Glen Ellen, Corbett Canyon, Kendall Jackson, Vendange, and Gallo have enough to taste slightly sweet (0.5-0.7%). Almaden, Sutter Home, Franzia, and Livingston Cellars are somewhat sweet (0.8-1.1%). Carlo Rossi, at 1.6% residual sugar, is distinctly sweet.

The vast majority of people are not allergic to sulfites, but sulfites are still of concern to many. Excessive sulfites also give a wine a burnt match smell. Red wines are much lower in sulfites than whites. However, Blackstone and Beringer Founders reds are fairly high. Concha y Toro is very high. Columbia Crest, Yellow Tail, Rosemount, and BV Coastal are the lowest of the reds. Among the whites, Bella Serra, Duboeuf, Cavit, Lindemans, Livingston Cellars, and Almaden are the highest. Gallo, Glen Ellen, Carlo Rossi, and Corbet Canyon are the lowest.

Polyphenols - thought to be good guys     
Polyphenols are anti-oxidants. The category includes tannins and are thus generally higher in red wines than in white. All the reds tested are high in polyphenols, with Rodney Strong, Beringer Founders, and BV Coastal standing out from the rest. All the whites are low in polyphenols, although Lindemans, Kendall Jackson, and Duboeuf have more than the others.

Catechins - thought to be good guys    
Catechins, anti-oxidants that are a sub-class of polyphenols, are also more prevalent in red wines than whites. Blackstone, Yellow Tail, Columbia Crest, and Clos du Bois have the highest levels among the reds. Lindemans and Woodbridge have relatively high levels for white wines.

Resveratrol - clearly a good guy    
Resveratrol is another important anti-oxidant. Several studies show that it reduces “bad” cholesterol and increases “good” cholesterol. Resveratrol is generally higher in red wines than in whites. Among the reds, Concha y Toro is by far the highest. Clos du Bois, Rosemount, and Yellow Tail are also high. BV Coastal and Beringer Founders are very low. Among the whites, Bella Sera is surprisingly high, surpassing many of the red wines.

Overall Health Ranking
As I said before, I don’t think this information is particularly meaningful since it requires subjective weighting of each of the tested components. For what it’s worth, here are Truth In Wine’s results:

Red wines are generally “healthier” than whites (by virtue of having more anti-oxidants and less sulfites). Among the red wines, Columbia Crest Merlot/Cab, Clos du Bois Merlot, and BV Coastal Cab score highest overall. Blackstone Merlot and Yellow Tail Merlot score lowest.

Among the whites, Woodbridge Chardonnay, Lindemans Bin 65 Chard, and Duboeuf White Table Wine score highest. The low scorers are Kendall Jackson VR Chard, Corbett Canyon Chard, Sutter Home Chard, Vendange Chard, Almaden Chablis, Carlo Rossi Chablis, Gallo Chard, Livingston Cellars Chablis, and worst of all, Franzia Chablis (bag in box). At last there is some justice in this world. If you take the overall health ranking seriously, then the worst tasting white wines are the worst for you!


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