ask dr. vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.


Dear Dr. Vinny,

Does the FDA require wine imported from France to the United States to have a certain additive?

—John N., Columbus, Ohio

Dear John,

No, it doesn’t, but I think I know what you’re getting at.

Here in the United States, the laws dictating how a wine is labeled come from the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB. U.S. law requires a disclosure on the label that wine contains sulfites, but European Union labeling laws do not require that. So, the same wine can be sold in France or in the U.S., but the label will read differently depending on where the wine is sold.

Sulfites are a byproduct of many natural things, including fermentation, which is why they’re found in wine. Most winemakers also add sulfites to wine to help keep it from spoiling. Most people don’t have a problem with sulfites, but for those who are sulfite-sensitive, a sulfite reaction is a lot like a bad asthma attack, hence the warning.

The U.S. also requires alcoholic beverages to include a warning about consuming alcohol during pregnancy, and about driving while intoxicated. Other countries don’t require that sort of wording. Likewise, in other countries such as New Zealand and Australia, labeling law requires an allergen warning about some of the products used in fining, like egg whites, milk and isinglass. Same wine, different warnings.

—Dr. Vinny


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