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Wine Making Ingredients and Additives Not on Labels

Updated on November 15, 2016
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Dr. John uses his scientific skills (PhD) to research & review wine and wineries topics & guides. John has 5 websites on Ausralian wineries

Wine is supposed to be a perfect natural beverage because the grapes contain all the ingredients required to transformation the crush into wine.

Many believe that all wines are made by simply adding crushed grapes to a vat. Over time, the natural yeasts on the grape skins strut their magic, converting the sugar in the crush into alcohol.

The only flavors and those develop from the original grapes and the skins and those added from the wood in the barrels in which the wines are matured before bottling.

However, very few wines are in fact made in this super-natural way. It is not widely known that most wines include a weird concoction of strange ingredients like fish swim bladders and various concoctions and chemicals.

What is even more disturbing in that the wine producers are generally not required to list all their ingredients apart from preservatives such as sulphur.

The list of additives shown at the end of the article will shock you. Discover the awful truth.

What is in that Glass of Red Wine?
What is in that Glass of Red Wine? | Source
What is in that White Wine?
What is in that White Wine? | Source
Minimal Label details for Australian Wine
Minimal Label details for Australian Wine | Source
Full Declaration of Ingredients and Processes on Label of Italian Wine
Full Declaration of Ingredients and Processes on Label of Italian Wine | Source
Wine label showing some of the ingredients
Wine label showing some of the ingredients | Source

What Additives are Added to Wine and Why

Producers are currently allowed to use a wide range chemicals and other additives to help ferment the wine, change its flavour, clarify it, improve its appearance. They can also add various flavors to simulate the taste of oak and other things imparted to wine that is stored in barrels. Many wines never see any thing apart from the sterile walls of a stainless steel vat. Oat chips or oak flavor extracts, are added to wine to create the flavor and aroma of processing in oak barrels.

Most of these chemicals and other additive don't have to be listed on the labels. European Union wine regulations permit for more than 50 different preservatives, flavorings, additives and agents to be added to wine without notification. Only sulphites, sulhur, and a few other preservatives have to listed on the label because of a link to asthma and other allergy related ailments.

A few wineries do produce their wines organically and totally naturally and they and are keen to promote this on their labels. Other wineries include a lot of information beyond what they are required to do for promotional purposes and to get a competitive edge. However it is hard to disclose everything on a small label. Shown above are some labels for Australian and Italian wines to illustrate some of the the variability in approaches to disclosure.

There is a growing move towards transparency and disclosure in wine making, not just the use of organic grapes. The RAW wine fair in Britain is a two-day celebration of fine, natural wine that is pure, kind to the planet. Every producer must disclose everything that is added to their wines. Any added processing or additives must be clearly available to the drinker. There is a similar push more more disclosure about additives in Britain and throughout the world.

What are the Major Additives

The additives which can be added without notification include:

  • clay
  • acids
  • artificial yeasts and yeast enhancers
  • enzymes
  • sugar
  • gelatin
  • charcoal
  • various egg products
  • casein a milk protein
  • isinglass - a clarifying agent made from fish bladder extract

Many of these are animal products, which are of concern to vegetarians, especially vegans, who eat no meat and would be concerned about the gelatin, egg, milk and fish bladder derivatives that are is in making wine.

Additives are widely used many of the most popular brands, especially the cheaper varieties. The Australian winemaker Hardys adds yeast to most of its wines such as its merlot range. Hardys also uses milk derivatives, egg, milk and gelatin to 'fine' the wine reducing cloudiness less cloudy. The company Jacob's Creek uses ascorbic and tartaric acid in its chardonnay varieties, as well as various enzymes, clays milk products to fine the wine. Blossom Hill yeasts, nutrients and malolactic bacteria during the fermentation of its standard red wine.

Why are Additives Used When Making Wines

Many wineries add yeasts, rather than relying on the natural ones. This is of minimal concern because it provides a more consistent, faster and more reliable fermentation. It also increases the consistency of the taste and aroma of the wine. However enzymes and nutrients are added to hasten and improve the fermentation and digestion of the solids in the wine. Other substances are added to enhance the color flavor and aroma of the wine

Other additives are used to enhance the texture of the wine, to boost or lower the tannins in wine and to boost its overall quality. There is a major group of additives designed to clarify the wine by helping sediments drop out of solution. Various clays, strange substances derived from fish swim bladders casein and other milk produced are used for this purpose. Wine producers also add oak extracts to enhance the flavor and tannin level in the wine. Oat wood chips may be added to the fermentation of simulate the effect of storage of the wine in oak barrels, without actually doing this step.

Perhaps the two most common additives are sulphur dioxide (220 ), "Contains Suphites", another suphur based preservation or ascorbic acid (300.) What is Vitamin C doing in the wine you may ask? It turns out that Vitamin C has preservative properties and is less harmful than many of the alternative chemicals that could be added.

Another strange one is ''contains nuts'. This occurs not because nits are added to the wines, but as a precaution because some of the tannin artificially added to wine in Australia and other countries is taken from galls on the bark of the chestnut tree. Although there is only a very remote chance of nut type allergies (from peanuts), the producers err on the side of caution and put the nut warning on the labels.

Other strange ones and reference to milk and eggs. Surely wine makers are not adding these products to wine? Labels such as 'egg fining agents used', 'may contain traces of egg' and 'contains milk products' means that egg white and various milk products have been used to fine or clarify the wine.

What about fish swim bladders? Isinglass is a substance derived from the dried swim bladders of fish such as sturgeon and cod. It is used for clarifying wine.

Wine can therefore become more of a manufactured and heavily processed product rather than a natural one as most people believe. Many consumers argue that this is a necessary evil because it improves the quality of cheaper wines. Other wine buffs are disgusted when they learn about the additives and become avid wine label readers.


Read the labels and contact the makers of your Favorite Wines to find out what they actually contain

There is a strong move to change in the labeling rules to ensure all the additives and unnatural processes are clearly displaced. Producers have complained that the lists are too long and the information would require very large labels. They also argue that the consumers would not understand what they were used for. However, this is perhaps the point of requiring the information on the labels. Doing so will change the way producers think about how they make their wines and what additives they use to create their products.

Similarly the consumers will become empowered to drive the process of change. People will begin to exercise more choice and become more concerning and informed about what they want to drink. Consumers will ask for and choose wines that don't contain secret and potentially harmful ingredients they don't want in their wines.

Additives Allowed in Wines
acacia (gum arabic)
allyl isothiocyanate
ammonium bisulphite
lactic bacteria
ammonium sulphate
ammonium sulphite
ascorbic acid
oak wood
ovalbumin (egg white)
calcium alginate
pectinolytic enzymes,
calcium carbonate
plant proteins
calcium phytate
calcium phytate
potassium alginate
calcium sulphate
potassium bicarbonate
calcium tartrate
potassium bisulphite
calcium tartrate
potassium caseinate
carbon dioxide
potassium ferrocyanide
carbon dioxide
potassium metabisulphite
potassium tartrate
silicon dioxide or colloidal solution
citric acid
sorbic acid or potassium sorbate
copper sulphate
diammonium phosphate
sulphur dioxide
tartaric acid
thiamine hydrochloride
ion exchange resins
yeast cell walls
yeast mannoproteins

© 2013 Dr. John Anderson


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    Dil Vil 4 years ago from India

    An informative and well written hub. I had a useful read, thank you.

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