Truth in Wine Labeling



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

Yellow Tail Merlot11.113.50.51033.26102.42.00
Rosemount Shiraz10.9140.21043.22  84.72.01
Columbia Crest Merlot/Cab10.8130  993.20  93.60.60
Clos du Bois Merlot10.81301403.24  93.12.28
Blackstone Merlot10.7130.41523.05116.91.11
Beringer Founders Cab10.513.301983.62  83.60.39
BV Coastal Cab10.51301223.40  69.50.43
Rodney Strong Cabernet10.513.801403.76  77.31.19
Concha y Toro Merlot10.3130.42312.77  78.45.95


Woodbridge Chardonnay11.213.502240.4158.30.14
Fetzer Chard11.113.50.41840.3939.80.11
Kendall Jackson VR Chard11.013.50.62010.4826.40.22
Ch. St. Michelle Chard10.8130.12080.4039.50.09
Lindemans Bin 65 Chard10.713.50.32410.5258.90.34
Vendange Chard10.7130.62150.3934.60.29
Corbett Canyon Chard10.7130.61740.3627.90.09
Glen Ellen Chard10.6130.51540.3027.90.09
E & J Gallo Chard10.613.50.71530.2715.40.09
Duboueuf Francais Blanc10.41202870.4728.50.29
Sutter Home Chard10.0130.92050.4236.10.09
Bella Serra Pinot Grigio  9.7120.33080.3413.51.66
Bolla Soave  9.7120.21990.309.80.16
Cavit Pinot Grigio  9.6120.42760.3514.40.09
Almaden Mt. Chablis  9.411.50.82330.337.30.09
Franzia Chablis (5L box)  8.8111.12120.3510.20.09
Livingston Cellars Chablis  8.410.51.12400.3310.70.09
Carlo Rossi Chablis

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

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

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.

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