What’s In My Wine – Label Talk
The question is often asked, “What is in this wine? Is it all Texas fruit? Is it organic, natural, etc.?” This can often lead to a rather lengthy answer and discussion, depending on the actual interest of the questioner. So, I decided to offer in this Carl’s Corner some of the answers and a bit of discussion about what a wine label does, and does not, tell the consumer.
The first thing to address is whether the fruit in the wine is all from Texas. In the US, it is legal in most states, including Texas (currently), to label as a Texas wine if 75% of the fruit was grown in Texas. That other 25% can come from anywhere. In difficult vintages, like 2013 and 2014, much of the fruit in Texas-made wines came from California (mostly Paso Robles) and Washington (Columbia Valley). In recent years, with much better vintages and more fruit available, more and more wine made in Texas has come from Texas-grown fruit. There is a movement underway to address this issue, and legislate that to be labeled a Texas wine, 100% of the fruit must be grown in Texas vineyards. This will match the laws in California and Oregon (Washington requires 95%). And, I am sure this will be addressed in the next legislative session in 2019.
A wine made from greater than 25% non-Texas fruit should be labeled with an American appellation, rather than Texas. If the fruit came from a specific place, like Russian River in CA or Columbia Valley in WA, that notation may be on the label. And, if there is no designation of origin on the label, but rather a notation “For Sale in Texas Only,” then the fruit in that wine most likely came from California.
Other label requirements relate to grape varieties, vineyards, counties, AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas), and vintages. To be labeled a variety, like Tempranillo or Viognier, US law requires 75% of the fruit be of that variety. Unless the label tells you what else is included, you really don’t know whether the wine is 100% or 75% of the named variety. To be a vineyard designate, like Brennan’s Newburg Vineyard or Wilmeth’s Diamante Doble Vineyard, 95% of the fruit must have been grown in that vineyard. If an AVA, like Texas High Plains or Texas Hill Country, is indicated on the label, 85% of the fruit must have been grown in that AVA. Oregon law actually requires 95%. And, if a wine is vintage dated, that requires 95% of the wine be harvested in that vintage year. Unless (and there’s always an exception), the designated place of origin is a county or state, then the requirement is only 85% of the fruit must have come from that vintage year. Did you get all of that? Is your head spinning now? Anyway, you can refer back to these label requirements if needed.
Other information very likely missing from the label is what additives the winemaker may have used to produce the wine in the bottle. It is amazing that over 80 different additives have been approved for use in winemaking. Most wines from Texas need to be acidulated in order to have proper balance. That usually means tartaric acid, the primary natural grape acid, has probably been added to adjust pH, or acidity, to a suitable level. Almost always sulfites have been added to the wine. Potassium metabisulfite is the most common additive used as a preservative. Many foods contain added sulfites, and wines are typically only stable when an appropriate level of sulfite is added to complement the level of acidity. Most white wines contain about 50-100 ppm sulfites, while red wines, with their natural tannin and anthocyanin (color body) preservatives, typically contain less sulfite at about 30-60 ppm. Another additive that is commonly added to wine during the fermentation process is tannin powder. This helps provide added structure to a wine and can benefit color retention in red wines. This all involves some neat chemistry, and overall, additives represent valuable tools for winemakers.
Finally, the yeast strain that is used to ferment the wine is rarely indicated on the label, but may be noted in the wine’s technical sheet. Cultured yeasts have been developed to ferment wines at different temperatures, rates and with myriad trace flavor components. Most winemakers become adept at yeast selection for their different grape varieties to produce preferred aroma and flavor components. There are those who prefer to ferment with the natural yeasts that come into the winery on the grapes from the vineyard. Using native yeasts can be risky, but once a winemaker learns about the characteristics of his/her vineyard’s yeast strains, these indigenous yeasts can become a viable part of the fermentation process.
Now armed with this information about wine labels, what is shown and what is not, perhaps you will be more aware when perusing that label on your next bottle of Texas wine (or wine from anywhere, for that matter). These may be issues well-beyond the knowledge level of the typical tasting room associate who is hosting your tasting, but if you get an audience with a winemaker, by all means ask some questions and explore what is, and is not, on the label of your favorite Texas wine.
Adapted from various sources, including Food & Wine Magazine, Winemaker Magazine, Wine Spectator, and Wine and Spirits.