Wine Labels don't have Nutritional Statements and this is Why
Anish Patel @ 2022-07-06 12:48:12 -0700
Everything in the grocery store has nutritional facts displayed clearly on its label. Carrots, water, freshly-scaled salmon, and soda bottles all tell you exactly what to expect, from calories to ingredients to nutrition value (or lack thereof) so that you can make health-conscious decisions for yourself. But have you noticed that wine labels are missing nutritional information?
Many wine labels have a lot of information on them in a variety of languages, and they can be less clarifying and more of a language barrier. So why aren’t nutritional facts on these labels too?
The answer to this question has a lot to do with how different food products are regulated in the U.S. But it also points to the fact that wine is a uniquely complicated product, and that makes following labeling laws difficult for many wine brands.
The good news is this: if you’re concerned about the nutritional content of your wine, there are a few things you can do to make sure you’re consuming a safe product that doesn’t contain ingredients you need to avoid. This guide will tell you why wine labels don’t have nutritional facts, how to tell the general calorie and sugar content of a bottle of wine, and how to seek out wine that is made sustainably.
Why Wine Labels Don’t Disclose Nutritional Facts
Withholding the nutritional information in wine isn’t exactly an attempt to fool you, but it certainly doesn’t help either. The reason they aren’t required is that alcoholic beverages are not regulated by the FDA. Instead, they are governed by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
The TTB was established after the repeal of Prohibition, and it was formed with the purpose of collecting taxes on a newly legalized product, not so much to ensure consumer health. So while wine labels are regulated to a certain extent, the TTB doesn’t require them to disclose ingredients or calories per serving size.
Understanding Wine Labels
Wine labels are confusing. Every country—even subregions within countries—has different standards about what should appear on the wine label. Wine made in the U.S. often displays the grape clearly on the label, but European labels do not. Instead, they disclose the region the wine was made. This is because each region has very strict standards of production, and if you know these standards, then you can learn a lot about the wine simply by reading where it’s from.
European law dictates minimum and maximum alcohol requirements, how much fruit a vine can yield, how long it has to be aged in oak or in the bottle, whether you can add sugar, or sulfur, and even how the vine is trained. It also dictates which grapes you can grow and what percentage of them can end up in the bottle. And the standards change everywhere you go.
For example, Gentil is a word you may come across on a bottle of white wine from Alsace, France. The word indicates not only that the wine is a blend, but that 50% of it is made up of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer and that the grapes were fermented separately, then blended in the bottle. That’s pretty specific.
Some Recent Changes In Labeling Laws In the U.S.
Advocacy groups have been pushing for more nutritional information on wine since the 1970s, but manufacturers tend to push back. However, in 2013 the TTB created guidelines that allow wine brands to disclose serving facts on their labels if they wish to do so, but not many producers have adopted the strategy. Many argue that the guidelines aren’t realistic for them to follow.
Adding nutritional information, including allergen warnings, presents a unique challenge to winemakers. Because wine varies from vintage to vintage, testing and labeling are much more costly for wine brands than it is for producers of other food products.
For example, the decision to use a fining agent to filter wine is often made after the labels have been ordered. Some fining agents contain allergens like milk, egg, and fish, and the law requires producers to display this on the label. So many winemakers are forced to display allergen warnings even if the wine doesn’t contain them after all.
Because of this, many winemakers and agencies are pushing for modified regulations that are more practical for vintage variation and bottling schedules.
What Has To Be On The Wine Labels
The U.S. does regulate wine labels to an extent. Wines that are 7-14% in alcohol by volume (ABV), must list the ABV and have the option of listing calories but aren’t required to do so. Wines that contain less than 7% ABV are regulated by the FDA and must disclose nutritional facts. However, most wines don’t fall into this category.
Wine labels must contain warnings of dangerous allergens. Sensitive ingredients like sulfites and Yellow No. 5 that small percentages of the population have very severe reactions to must be disclosed clearly on the label. In the U.S., wine that contains more than 10 parts per million of sulfites must display “contains sulfites” on the label. And wine that is made with organic grapes will say “made with organic grapes” while wine that is also made organically will be labeled as “organic wine.” Organic wine means that the wine was made with organic winemaking processes, including the yeast, and no sulfur dioxide was added.
The name of the wine producer, the country of origin, and often the type of wine also show up on the label. The year the grapes were harvested, also known as the vintage, must be on the label.
If the wine is made in the U.S., the grape has to be on the label, but even this isn’t so cut and dry. Here’s why: in California and other states other than Oregon, any wine that has a grape on the label must contain at least 75% of that varietal. In Oregon, law requires 90% varietal in the bottle. This means that if you buy a California Cabernet Sauvignon, that bottle might actually be 75% Cab and 25% other grapes.
Conventional wine producers tend to take advantage of this law, using more affordable grapes to complete the blend and maximizing their profits. So if you buy bottom-shelf wine, the chances are that your Chardonnay is actually a white blend.
How To Figure Out Nutritional Information In Your Wine
There are ways around the lack of clear labeling on wine, it just requires a little research. First of all, there are some general nutritional facts you can gather based on whether your wine is dry or sweet.
Off-dry and sweet wines contain what is called “residual sugar,” also referred to as RS. This means that the wine stopped fermenting before it was complete, leaving sugar in the wine which imparts sweet, honey notes. On the other hand, a wine that has “fermented dry” has completed fermenting all the remaining sugar and converting it into alcohol. The result is a wine that is lower in sugar content, around 1.2 grams per glass, but higher in alcohol.
However, it’s important to note that estimating residual sugar levels doesn’t always tell the entire story. Residual sugars only measures Glucose and Fructose, and other sugar molecules that are in grapes or added after fermentation are ignored. The measurement is always less than Total Sugars which is the measurement of all sugar molecules and what we are used to on common nutrition statements. Additionally, some wineries still add sucrose to their finished wine, making the total sugar levels higher, while keeping residual sugar readings low. To combat this, some countries and states have banned the addition of sucrose, like California. Without nutrition labels, we can’t really know how much total sugar is in the wine, but it is a good starting point.
In addition, this doesn’t necessarily mean that dry wine is better for you. After all, alcohol still contains calories. But if you’re trying to cut back on sugar and carbs, then dry wine is a good option for you.
To understand calories, you just have to know that alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. In general, a 5-oz glass of dry wine has between 120-130 calories. On the other hand, a 2-oz pour of sweet wine contains 130-165 calories.
Shop small and get in touch.
If you want to make sure you’re getting the best quality wine with the lowest amount of sugar and no additives, look for dry wine made from small and natural producers. Natural winemakers and most small producers often provide everything you need to know about their wine on their website. They know that consumers want to have all the information about the wine they buy, and part of their mission is to make that readily available to you, even if it’s not on the label.
So always check the website first. But if you don’t find information there, you still have several options. Contact the winemaker, importer, or even the staff at your local wine shop. Many owners of local wine stores keep technical sheets of their wine on hand, and they know how to decipher a confusing bottle of wine and determine nutritional information about it for you.
Now you have everything you need to understand the trickier aspects of wine labels, if you’re interested in having organic wines with nutrition statements delivered to your door, shop our selection of natural wines.