Nutrition Facts — part 2 of the rant

There is a big push to add nutrition information to wine labels. It may surprise you to learn that some of the biggest wine producers are pushing the hardest to require such information on labels.

We are all for information, not to mention transparency. But that is not what this is about. This is about the compliance costs for smaller producers. The bigger producers can absorb those costs easily, and in fact, their label costs will barely budge due to economies of scale and other factors described in part one of this rant.

It is also frustrating that the information found on a nutrition facts label barely pertains to wine. Let’s take a look line by line.
Serving size. This will be interesting. Australia has a definition of “a drink” that is based on alcohol content. So some bottles might contain 4.5 servings while another might contain 8 servings. We’ll see what happens here.
Calories. Assuming the wine is dry, this will scarcely budge from wine to wine, and the influencing factor will be alcohol content. If serving size is determined by alcohol content, calories per serving won’t vary at all (but total calories per bottle will). Not very useful information.
Total Fat. Really? You think there is fat in wine? You will need more than a Nutrition Facts label to help you with that. Seriously, folks, no fat in wine. Got it?
Sodium. Rarely measured in wine now, and surely quite low. This is another way the bigs stick it to the smalls. The incremental cost of sodium analysis will hit small producers much harder than larger ones. Regardless, the number will be very low, under 10 mg/serving for most wines.
Total carbohydrate. This is a tricky one, as a dry wine contains no actual carbohydrates at all. So will all the labels say 0 or will they put in the grams of alcohol (not a true carbohydrate) per serving? This could be interesting for the big producers, too, as they seem much more inclined to leave residual sugar in their products without telling anyone. Once people see that their favorite supermarket wine has 1-3g of sugar per serving, will they stop buying it?
Protein. A laugh. Winegrapes don’t contain much protein. What is there is consumed by the yeast and left with their cells when the wine is racked off the lees. Further, the tannins in red wine bind with and precipitate any protein that might remain. White wines can contain a bit of protein, which is a big concern for winemakers. If that protein gets denatured, by heat for example, it can throw an ugly haze. For that reason most winemakers take steps to remove any protein from white wine before bottling, sometimes by adding tannin to interact with it as in red wines and sometimes by adding Bentonite, a clay that pulls the protein out of solution. That way, if your wine gets cooked in transit, you’ll never be the wiser! (Hey, is that how it should work?)
Vitamins. Nil.
Calcium. Negligible.
Iron. Negligible, or so the winemaker hopes!
Potassium. This will vary a lot. California wines are generally much higher in potassium than those from other regions. Does this matter to you?
Ingredients. The argument over whether to require–or even allow–ingredient listing is taking place separately from the nutrition facts argument, and we’ll look at that in another post.

In sum, if you think you want nutrition facts on a wine label, ask yourself why and what you hope to learn. Chances are you won’t find significant differences among wines. The requirement would impose burdensome costs on small producers and benefit consumers not in the least.

What do you think?