It might come as a surprise to learn that wine in Australia, like many other countries, is legally allowed to have more than 50 substances added during the winemaking process.
According to an ABC Radio National report the 19 or so permitted additives include sulphites, tannins and different types of acids, which are used to enhance wines that might be lacking in natural balance and quality if it has been a difficult year for growing grapes.
The report said that aside from the permitted additives, there are also about 30 permitted processing aids, which are mostly used to filter or “fine” the wine.
Egg whites are a popular method of fining, as well as the milk protein called casein.
Sometimes winemakers use gelatine, which is a product made by boiling the skin, cartilage, and bones of animals.
Another fining option is diatomaceous earth.
“Diatomaceous earth is ancient sea creatures,” Tony Milanowski, a lecturer in winemaking at Plumpton College in the UK, was reported as saying.
“It’s like a calcium powder. It’s used in pool filters — it’s a filtering material.”
Then there is isinglass, a product made from the swim bladders of fish.
“Fish swim bladders are what the fish use to maintain an even keel. So it’s not like their urinary parts, it’s their flotations,” Mr Milanowski said.
“I find the processing aids all quite normal because they are just the day-to-day things that winemakers learn about and use and talk about.”
The process of “racking”, where the liquid is siphoned away from any solids in the juice, removes the majority of processing aids from wine.
“The Food Standards Code does not require the addition of isinglass to be called out on labels if it is used in beer or if it is used in wine,” said Rachel Triggs from Wine Australia.
Wine Australia is a federal statutory authority. As well as being the regulator, it invests in research, marketing and “protecting the reputation of Australian wine”.
It says permitted additives are “restricted to naturally occurring grape derivatives”.
But despite being additives, these ingredients are not required to be listed on labels.
The only statement winemakers are legally required to make on their label in relation to additives is if the wine includes allergens like milk and eggs.
The Winemakers’ Federation of Australia says processing aids are used because “consumers demand fined wine”.
“All these additives and processing aids are things that have been used for years,” CEO Tony Battaglene was quoted as saying in the ABC report.
“Milk is added as a fining product and that’s been around since the time of the Romans. So it’s always been considered that there’s no point in declaring these additives and processing aids,” he said.
It is not just wine that does not require an ingredients list on the label, as the Federal Health Department said in a statement.
“Alcoholic beverages are exempt from ingredient labelling because the ingredients used in the manufacture of alcoholic beverages are ‘substantially transformed’ during fermentation,” it read.
“Therefore, providing a list of ingredients is unlikely to provide useful information for consumers.”
But wine writer Mike Bennie was quoted in the article as saying consumers had a right to know what was in their alcohol.
“It’s a fairly vague statement inherently. But where it’s incorrect is that a lot of additives are actually added post fermentation,” Mr Bennie said.
He said if wine producers have nothing to hide, they should not be concerned about voluntarily declaring the additives and processing aids they have used.
Wine Australia says if consumers wanted more information about how a particular wine was processed, they could call the winery directly.