Wine Tricksters Look For Seasonal Boost

You don’t have to pay a fortune to fall for a wine trick: Internet Scambusters #938

You don’t have to invest in an expensive vintage to fall victim to a wine trick.

Limited labeling requirements enable sellers to conceal where the wine came from and what’s inside of it.

There are other ways that everyday wine buyers can be misled or conned, as we report in this week’s issue.

Let’s get started…

Wine Tricksters Look For Seasonal Boost

As we head toward Christmas, when wine sales traditionally peak, and with more of us stuck at home than ever, it’s a fair bet that many quaffers are going to be wine-tricked, ripped off or both in the coming season.

It’s not necessarily that winemakers are operating illegally, at least in the US. The process is carefully controlled both by laws and by the industry itself.

The problem is that, with a very few exceptions, winemakers don’t have to tell customers what they actually put into the bottle.

In particular, wine labels don’t have to list their ingredients or prove descriptive claims such as “organic,” “artisan” or “crafted” — popular words that are increasingly being bandied about in the food and wine business.

And while labels may wax lyrical about the location of their vineyards and the angle of south-facing slopes they grow on, they often come up short on explaining what really goes into the wine and whether the contents are all estate-grown or just mixed in with purchases from the bustling bulk wine trade market.

Of course, bottled wine can’t be made just from fermented grapes. It needs additives to prevent bacterial growth and perhaps other chemicals to reduce acidity, increase sweetness, or even change the color. But you, the drinker, have no idea what they are or why they’re needed.

For example, a recent report from international publisher The Guardian noted that in the US (but not in Europe where it’s illegal), some vintners add a grape concentrate known as “Mega Purple” to enrich both the color and sweetness of their products. But they don’t have to tell you, and they’re hardly likely to volunteer the information.

Noting there’s a glut of grapes in some parts of the US at the moment, The Guardian explains that growers keep the best for themselves and sell the remainder on to bulk markets. In this case, labels may imply the grapes come from a noted vineyard but fail to explain they’re the lower-class leftovers.

“Wineries also use their excess to make on-demand wines for buyers,” the publisher says. “In a twist, these ‘exclusive’ wines often come from big wineries; despite being thoroughly conventional, they can even be marketed as ‘minimal intervention’ or ‘clean’ because these are meaningless terms.”

Sometimes, these come with a questionable descriptor such as “Private Label.” Makers can even offer a service in which they label the wine with the buyer’s name so it can be used as a gift. And that, of course, enables them to mark up the price significantly.

In reality, the seller may be nothing more than a bottling operation, with no vineyards or wine-making equipment to its name other than a good labeling machine.

In some cases, The Guardian found spurious claims on a Californian wine website about the supposedly rich multi-generational heritage of its products but failed to identify the supposed name of the family producing it.

In time, experts in the industry believe that producers will be required to provide more detail on labels. But in the meantime, there are a few important things you can do to limit the chances of being ripped off:

  • If a label says the wine is organic, look for evidence of certification.
  • If it’s described as “clean” (increasingly common), implying there are no additives, look for supporting information on the label.
  • If it’s described as “healthful,” it almost certainly isn’t even though some research suggests small amounts of red wine may be beneficial. That’s not to say it’s unhealthful but, it is, remember, an alcoholic drink.
  • At its most basic, “Private Label” means nothing beyond the printing of the label, unless there’s evidence to support it. So, be wary of paying excessive amounts when considering buying it — either for yourself or as a gift for someone else.
  • Finally, if you enjoy wine, take the time to check out vineyards and labels online. Find a small selection of brands you have researched and trust. Then stick with them.

Buying wine in a restaurant is a totally different story, overflowing with pitfalls and scams. We’ll address that in a future issue.

Alert of the Week

One of the most widely used applications on many home computers is the video and animation program called Adobe Flash. It’s controversial because of persistent claims that it’s insecure, even though it’s frequently updated.

In the face of technological advance, the developer — Adobe — has had enough. It’s ending support for Flash on December 31, both as a standalone product and as an extension in your Internet browser. It may be automatically removed by your browser but if not, you’d be taking a big risk continuing to use it. Unsupported eventually equals vulnerability.

There are alternatives, notably an Internet standard known as HTML5.

To learn more, visit Adobe Flash Player EOL General Information Page.

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!