Monday, July 29, 2019

wine based blogging

Here's another one for the Slightly Sinister Weird Shit Concealed By Seemingly Innocuous Labelling Practices files. I buy quite a lot of wine from Aldi, primarily, and I'm quite happy to admit this, because it is quite nice and, moreover, super-cheap. I'm not a big connoisseur of wine, still less a wine snob, but I do broadly know what I like, and highly quaffable South African Pinotage and Australian Shiraz for less than four quid a bottle are very much up my alley, thank you very much. The Chilean Merlot, if you can stretch to an extra ten pence, and aren't a bit funny about drinking Merlot, is pretty good too.

The bottle of Winking Owl red that we acquired the other day set my Spidey-sense a-tingling, though. Nothing obviously wrong with it, like being blue instead of red, or making me instantly go blind and have a rectal prolapse, and let's face it we've all had a bottle of wine that made that happen from time to time, amirite? No, it was more a general sense that it wasn't as nice as the other bottles that went for a similar price (this one was a smidgen under four quid). Not battery acid or anything, just a general impression that made me do that quizzical plap-plap-plap thing with the mouth and hold the glass up to the light in a suspicious manner.

Closer examination of the bottle revealed a couple of interesting things: firstly that the alcohol content was quite low at 10.5% (most New World wine clocks in around the 13% mark), and secondly that the assorted disclaimers and guidelines about responsible alcohol consumption limits and recycling on the label on the back of the bottle included the odd legend "WINE BASED DRINK".

It turns out this stuff has been knocking around for a while, as there seems to have been a brief hoo-hah about it back in 2015 in the wake of this Daily Mail article. It being the Mail you should obviously take any numbers or maths within the article with a big pinch of salt - for instance the article makes the following claim:
Industry guidelines state that any drink containing less than 75 per cent wine must be described as a 'wine based drink'
A moment's reflection should reveal that this must be wrong, or at least incomplete, as it doesn't specify a lower bound, and therefore implies that you could sell, for instance, Ribena as a "wine-based drink". It'd also be nice to think that to be described unequivocally as "wine" a bottle would have to be, you know, 100% wine. Anyway, this industry insiders' website makes a much more plausible claim, as follows:
The International Organisation of Vine and Wine states that to be called a ‘wine based drink’ the product must contain a minimum of 75% wine, though producers do not have to divulge what the remaining 25% is made up of.
That has the virtue of actually making sense, though the second part is a bit worrying. You'd like to think the producers are just cutting it with some grape must or something, rather than Cillit Bang or dog sweat, but you never know. My brief encounter with it leads me to recommend fairly strongly that you spend the extra 40p or so and buy something that's actually labelled "wine". Opinions elsewhere on the internet vary quite widely: this reviewer is blithely unconcerned about the subterfuge, while this ostensibly quite in-depth article doesn't even mention the "wine based drink" thing but does enthuse at some length about what a relatively small amount of arsenic there is in it:
From the testing we've done, Gallo does it right. They try to be competitive and try not to have excess arsenic in their wines. To me that's proof that it's not necessary to have excess arsenic in wine.
When you consider that the eventual product could, presumably, legally be up to 25% arsenic, you have to salute their commitment to customer service. Cheers!

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