By Nathan Gogoll
SOMETIMES truth is stranger than fiction. But not when it comes to labels on food and wine. Because if labels say anything it must be true.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) is responsible for what information has to be on a packet of frozen berries from China and sold to you ‘cheap, cheap’ in your nearest supermarket. There have been some problems with those.
The same organisation is responsible for enforcing the rules that govern what you find on a wine label.
The code is designed to stop products from being labelled as something they’re not. The name or description on the packaging must indicate the true nature of what’s inside.
So when a newsletter from wotwine, a London website that offers advice on choosing which wine to buy in supermarkets, recently drew attention to a ‘wine-based drink’ on the shelves next to real wine and said this was “blatantly misleading customers” it raised a few eyebrows.So I called Steve Guy, AGWA’s general manager of regulatory services.
“The products comply with Australian law,” he said.
“People think, naively, there’s a whole range of categories within the Food Standards code and each product will fit neatly into one of those.
“The only argument against it is that you would think the product designation should be on the front label and shouldn’t there be an ingredient list?
“But the categorisation clearly states, designates, it’s not wine.”
I’ll admit, the way the code worked seemed counter-productive to me at first… but Steve was able to set me straight. The term ‘wine-based drink’ is not a part of the code. And that’s because the code outlines what things are rather than what they are not.
“If the product is not wine it would be false to call it wine,” Guy said.
If it’s not wine but it claims to be, then there’s a problem. If it’s not wine, then putting ‘wine-based drink’ on the label actually tells you it’s not wine.
“But there might be an argument that with a wine-based drink, maybe it should be declared what the other ingredients/components are,” Guy said.
“Domestically, AGWA doesn’t have a role to play at all. And we couldn’t do anything even if we wanted to.
“The products don’t have a region or a vintage. Products other than wine can’t list a GI. And you can’t call it wine if it’s not wine.”
It all falls to state health authorities to make sure the Food Standards are adhered to.
“Chances are they are not interested in this issue whatsoever,” Guy said, pointing out Food Standards is only interested in safety and that to the best of his knowledge there have only been two cases of wine being recalled in Australia, for not listing known allergens.
Here’s how the complaint phone call to your state agency looking after the Food Standards code might go, Clarke and Dawe style…
Is that the right person to talk to about Food Standards?
Yes, this is the state health department and we administer those standards.
Good, I want to complain about a wine-based drink.
Okay, what seems to be the problem?
It’s not 100 per cent wine. It’s misleading.
Does it claim to be a wine?
I’m not really sure. The label said it’s a wine-based drink.
Okay. Well, the code says something that’s not wine can’t be called wine. And if it says it’s a wine-based drink on the label, then it’s probably not 100 per cent wine.
Yes, it’s wrong.
Not according to the code.
But it’s not wine.
Are there any problems with the product? Where did you purchase it? They might have a return or refund policy. But I can probably only investigate this if you worried it’s not safe?
I saw it online, I didn’t actually buy it. So I’m not sure how bad it is, but I assume it doesn’t taste as good as real wine. But I don’t know there’s anything wrong. I assume it’s safe. But it might not be… It’s not really wine. It’s misleading. I don’t know what’s in it. And it’s a bad look for real wine.
Well, if it says it’s a wine-based drink, we can assume because of what the code says it’s a product that is mostly wine, which is made from fermenting fresh grapes.
Probably, but it could have anything in it. And somebody might get really sick drinking it because they don’t know if they’re allergic to it.
Well, no actually. The code clearly outlines that any potential allergens need to be declared.
But I know that wine needs to be at least 85 per cent Merlot before you can label it Merlot.
Does this product say Merlot on the label?
Well no, it doesn’t say anything about what’s in it. I think it says something like ‘Australian red’. That’s the problem. The label doesn’t tell me.
What do you think might be in it?
Probably water. Or some other fruit juice, or worse, it could be juice concentrate from China.
That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem under the food standards code.
Well what’s the good of it then?
It prevents a product from being labelled as a wine if it’s not wine.
Yes. That’s the problem. It’s not wine.
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I think I’ve got a rough idea of how the code applies in this case, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant for the wine industry. Was it something to campaign against? I thought it might have been until I read another blog post on the topic. This time from Tassie winemaker Paul Smart at www.vineyardpaul.com.au. What he wrote seemed to make a lot of sense.
“These wine products, though abhorrent to the wine purists, are actually enjoyable for a percentage of the wine drinking community. And others. In fact, these flavoured wines could introduce a whole new bunch of people to drinking wine…
“And I see these products only playing in the low end of the market, where it is a lot less about the grape, and a lot more about the marketing. If somebody wants a flavoured wine, give it to them I say…
“As for this destroying the image of wine, I doubt that. With proper labelling, and no confusion, this will be just one part of the giant pie of the total wine industry. That will be key, proper labelling.
“So let’s all grow the pie, and not the slice. Lets embrace it for what it is. A small part of our growing industry.”
I remember being a teenager and being handed a St Tropez ‘wine cooler’ whatever happened to those? Paul might be on to something.