U.S. law allows wineries to give Americans among the least accurate information in the world about the amount of alcohol we are consuming.
It is time to change that.
The wine industry is deliberately and systematically understating the amount of alcohol in wine, and U.S. law is allowing it to happen.
Americans are interested in the amount of alcohol in our wine. We want to know for aesthetic reasons. We need to know for health reasons. The wine industry should let us know for safety reasons: an accurate label may prevent drivers from becoming dangerously intoxicated.
But currently, a wine labeled with 12.5% alcohol could have anywhere from 11 to 14% alcohol. This huge spread is illegal in most of the world. A wine labeled with 15% alcohol may have anywhere between 14 and 16% alcohol. Again, this is not legal in most of the world.
|In Argentina, alcohol % is stamped on|
The European Union allows only a 0.5% tolerance. So does Argentina. There is no good reason why the United States should not adopt this standard.
The wine industry will complain that a 0.5% tolerance presents technical difficulties. They complain that labels must be printed in advance of the finished wine being bottled.
If the wine industries of all 28 EU countries, including Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovakia -- not to mention Argentina -- are technologically able to conform to a 0.5% standard of tolerance, there is no reason the U.S. wine industry cannot.
In Argentina, the alcohol level is usually stamped onto a preprinted label. This allows wineries to make late changes to the blend of a wine while still giving consumers accurate information. There is no reason this could not happen in the United States.
Every winery knows the exact alcohol percentage of every wine sold in the U.S. Why are they not required to share that information with consumers?
Data from 18 years of wine sales in Ontario, Canada, shows that wineries selling their products in North America consistently and deliberately understate the amount of alcohol in wine. They do so because they think the wines will not sell as well if consumers know how high the actual alcohol levels are.
This letter is not an argument to restrict in any way the alcohol levels in wine. Wine is a low-alcohol product compared to whiskey and other spirits. Consumers should be able to consume high-alcohol wine if they choose.
But the choice to consume high-alcohol wine should be an informed choice. Drivers, pregnant women, people who are sensitive to alcohol -- everyone should know how much alcohol is in the wine we buy.
The TTB is supposed to regulate the wine industry not for the ease and comfort of the industry, but for the health and safety of consumers.
Please do not permit wineries to continue to hide the amount of alcohol in their products.
W. Blake Gray
which is responsible for U.S. laws regarding wine labels.
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