This story should sound familiar to anyone who has fallen for the world of wine. One day about a decade ago, a budding opera singer and his wife were sitting outside a caffè in Rome. "I had quit drinking in my very early 20s due to the financial constraints of college and grad school," said Matthew Polenzani, "but on a beautiful warm evening the moment called for a nice glass of wine. We've never looked back."
After offering my take on ingredient labeling for wine, I got to thinking about why this is such a vexing issue. We do, after all, want to know what goes into what we consume, including wine. The tricky aspect for wine, of course, is that what goes in does not necessarily wind up in the bottle.
All of the adjustments winemakers can apply to wine remind me of what can happen in making music recordings. It's an apt analogy on several levels. One can even argue that, as humans, we need music as much as we need food and wine. At least some of us do.
Here's the thing. Just as manipulations in the winery can make a wine seem like more than what the vineyard actually produced, what we hear on most recordings is not exactly what the musicians actually played and sang. Sophisticated electronic and digital processes add reverberation, replace flubbed notes, and these days can even modify pitch to get a sour note in tune.
Ingredient labeling for wine seems to make perfect sense, but the devil is in the details. Despite several concerted attempts, some dating back 40 years, it hasn't happened yet, in part because making wine is not like bottling soda pop or mixing cereal. In those, ingredients are the same as contents. Not so with wine.
Wine is a product of fermentation, and not everything that goes into it comes out in the end. And alcohol, one of wine's prime constituents, is not added to table wines. It results from fermenting the sugar in grapes. How to handle those pesky details has derailed previous attempts at ingredient labeling for wine.