Sugaring – which means adding saccharose (commonly sucrose) to wine – is a practice strictly prohibited in Italy, as it is in Spain, Portugal and Greece. It is instead freely allowed, aside being largely employed, in the rest of Europe and all over the world. This is a low cost ‘make up’ trick for wines, still refined, but deriving from weak or non ripe grapes. (1) Assoenologi and Great Italian Food Trade both shout, Enough!
Grape wine or cane syrup?
Any addition of ‘alien’ sugars to wine, like cane or beet sugar, has been prohibited in Italy for over half a century. (2) As for Spain, Portugal and Greece. The ‘alien’ sugar, either cane or beet, is instead allowed and largely used in France, Germany, Austria, Poland, England, Hungary. In spite of all efforts in harmonizing technical rules within the s.c. Internal Market, in a sector among the most remunerative in agro-industry. The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) appears rather asymmetrical, from this perspective.
Alien sugar represents the easiest solution, as it’s low cost – in comparison to concentrated grape must – and it’s anyhow capable of ‘improving’ (a euphemism) either wine structure and alcohol level. In particular when factors like poor selection/vine pruning and/or climatic factors would not allow harvesting ripe grapes suitable for correct vinification.
Therefore, while in Italy and other southern European countries wine is made with the exclusive addition of grape must (rectified concentrated must, or rectified concentrated solid must), the northern European countries are allowed to turn to the much cheaper refined sucrose. Mostly cane sucrose, or even beetroot. So that the unbalanced production costs (between the various EU countries) generate an unfair competition within the Internal Market, in favor of the Center-Northern European countries. And there is more.
European consumers are deprived of the opportunity to distinguish real wine, produced from real grapes, from that counterfeit with ‘alien’ sugars. All alcoholic beverages (>1,2% vol.) labels are indeed exempted from the otherwise mandatory ingredients list (3) and nutritional declaration. (4) Being informed about the actual nature of Baccus’ nectar – with or without cane – is therefore denied to consumers in Europe and in other parts of the world. In spite of the goals established by the Food Information Regulation.
Food Information to Consumer?
Disinformation ‘by law’ on the potential presence of alien sugars in wines produced in various different EU Countries, as mentioned before, is due to the absence of harmonization between the different European Regulations. Whereas vertical rules (meaning applied to the single food chain) ought to be updated to the most recent reform of the horizontal rules (general range) on food information to consumer.
Regulation EU No. 1169/11 in fact defines precise informative objectives for the consumer, shaped for his high level protection, which is expressed by his ability to make actual informed choices in buying food products.
The provision of food information shall pursue a high level of protection of consumers’ health and interests by providing a basis for final consumers to make informed choices and to make safe use of food, with particular regard to health, economic, environmental, social and ethical considerations. (Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, article 3 – General Objectives)
Food information shall not be misleading, particularly:
a) as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production;
(Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011, article 7 – Fair Information Practices).
It is therefore legitimate that a consumer would claim the right to be able to distinguish a wine made with just grape from an apparently similar beverage which contains extra additional sugars. The two products would be totally different in nature, costs and method of production, therefore very different in value.
Wine in Europe. With an identical name, here are the rules
‘In Italy wine is produced with grapes, not with sugar and water’, thunders Riccardo Cotarella, President of Italian ASSOENOLOGI, in his June editorial on the association’s magazine. The production rules need to be harmonized at a EU level. Not dumbing it down – as it already happens in the beer sector, where Italian rules are the strictest in the world – but rather raising the common standard.
The President of Assoenologi mainly addresses the slickers who have occasionally used similar tricks in Italy, where they are punished as commercial fraud. ‘Much before a criminal relevance, the question has an ethical connotation. Meaning it involves the moral sense of each of us, which in the end would mean honest conduct.’
Assoenologi and Greatitalianfoodtrade are addressing the new Italian Minister for Food, Agriculture and Forest policies, asking him to promote in the EU the ban of sugaring throughout the internal market. Anyhow, consumers must be informed, on the label, about the presence of alien sugars.
No cane in wine. Or, at least, let us know it’s there!
Dario Dongo e Marta Strinati
(1) technical term for enrichment, sweetening
(2) See D.P.R.12.2.65 N. 162, ART. 76
(3) See article “Ingredients List, ABC” on https://www.greatitalianfoodtrade.it/etichette/lista-ingredienti-abc
(4) See article “ABC nutritional declaration” on https://www.foodagriculturerequirements.com/approfondimenti_1/dichiarazione-nutrizionale-obbligatoria-al-via-il-14-12-16-l-abc-delle-norme-da-applicare_1