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Alcohol accuracy

In most wine producing countries I believe it is usual to show the alcohol grade on the label to half a degree or percentage.
Indeed this is prescribed in EU/UK regulations as:-
The alcoholic strength or “abv” must be shown as whole or half units e.g. XX%vol. or XX.5%vol.

However I am used to seeing alcohol stated to 0.1% when I am holidaying in Switzerland and recently I noticed the same for Australian wines in the TWS 1874 magazine.

I thought the idea of rounding to a half degree was due to it being difficult to be very accurate as the composition of wine changes over time.
Is there any merit in trying to be more precise than 0.5%?
Does anyone know why the Swiss and the Australians have chosen 0.1%?

Why not allow the label to state what was measured? If some countries do allow that, I don’t see that any justification is needed. I think the real question is why the EU requires integer mutiples of 0.5%.

Last time I checked, the EU regs required the ABV to be measured to the accuracy of ±0.5%, and the measured value must be rounded up or down to an adjacent integer multiple of 0.5% for display on the label.

I think the reason for the flexibility is probably practical issues with label printing. It enables small wineries to get large print runs of labels with the same ABV, and use them for multiple vintages.

But it also means the stated ABV may be nearly 1% out. For example, if the actual ABV is 12.1%, it is OK to be measured as 12.55%, and it is then OK to put 13.0% on the label. Personally I don’t think that is good enough.

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I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that requiring half integer multiples for alcohol content is for simplifying duty calculations and ensuring the correct duty amount is well defined.

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I’m not sure the EU proscribes being accurate, just that the minimum standard is accurate to with 0.5%, doesn’t it? I’m pretty certain I’ve had wines that have had odd -looking percentages - 14.7, 13.4 etc on European wines (It sticks in the mind because you don’t see it often).

It does, however, get me wondering whether that it could be a clever way of disguising a 15% etc wine?

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In the US it is not uncommon for what is printed on the label not reflect what’s in the bottle, if I remember correctly.

Jancis had an article on this earlier this year - lots of detail and worth reading if this interests you -

Alcohol on Labels - Jancis Robinson

And yet, (Scotch) Whisky ABV seems to be to the nearest 0.1%

I imagine ‘taking back control’ will see a reversion to degrees proof. :slightly_smiling_face:

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But that’s easy: water is added to the whisky as made to bring it down to 70% abv.

Degrees proof was ridiculous. And UK and US Proofs are different so I mistakenly thought my American whiskey at 80 proof was stronger than my Scotch

Wine changes its exact abv each vintage depending on many factors, including the weather the grapes experience.

Some winemakers in hot climates sometimes have accidents when washing equipment and water finds its way into wine.

Ridge is the only one AFAIAA that adds water and declares the percentage on labels.

@Tannatastic - in the USA wine above 15% abv goes into a higher tax band for the producer. The is a Gary Vaynerchuck video with Niels Verburg of Luddite Wines in South Africa who makes BIG Shirazs who as good as admits his wine labelled for the US stops at 15%abv

I think this is it

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I have too, but those labels are not compliant with EU regulations

Thank you all for your replies, I feel much more informed on the subject now.

Are you sure that it has to state a rounded-up or rounded-down figure, and isn’t simply a guideline that you must be within 0.5% accuracy?

This wine here…

https://www.thewinesociety.com/product/xinomavro-naoussa-markovitis-2016

surely isn’t knowingly breaking the law, is it?

The Jancis Robinson article posted above says that in the EU alcohol content has to be provided in multiples of 0.5%.

Given how rarely you see anything other than multiples of 0.5% in the UK, I would presume it must either be law, or must make some administrative aspect much simpler.

It’s not easy finding easy-to-digest and easy-to-follow legislation online - it tends to be in huge, impenetrable blocks, and this one seems to be no exception.

However, I did find this from Bromley Trading Standards (of all places). They state it is EU Law, transposed under current UK legislation until such time as it is superceded. Unfortunately, the quotes read backwards, it’s not the easiest to copy-and-paste.

The alcoholic strength must be in the same field of vision as the name and net quantity of the food. This means that you must be able to hold the product in such a way that all three pieces of information are visible at the same time

  • plus or minus 0.5% for beer and wine with a strength of up to 5.5% volume

  • plus or minus 1% for beer and wine with a strength of greater than 5.5% volume
  • plus or minus 1.5% for beverages containing macerated fruits or plants
  • plus or minus 0.3% for all other alcoholic beverages

However, the labelling of alcoholic beverages differs from the labelling of other foods in several ways, as follows:

Alcoholic strength

Alcoholic beverages must be labelled with their alcoholic strength to a maximum of one decimal place in the format ‘x% vol.’ (where x is the strength of the alcohol). You can alternatively declare the strength in the format ‘alc x% vol.’ or ‘alcohol x% vol.’ - for example, ‘Alcohol 5.4% vol.’

The stated figure must be accurate, with the level of accuracy being dependent on the type of alcoholic beverage

Whilst I can find reference to it being within a given range, I can find no reference to it having to be in 0.5% increments. Indeed, the bottle that TWS sells suggests so too. I would concede that I know no more, and that I don’t have anymore compelling evidence other than this above that I have read, plus colloquial reference to remembering other bottles that are the same. But I don’t, at the moment, see any compelling evidence to the contrary either.

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Local trading standards documents are intended to provide helpful guidance, and are not definitive. I will try to dig out the relevant EU regulations specific to wine, though it might take some time. You are right - they will not be easy to digest.

Whether the document I find has been superceded or not, and the precise legal status, would need legal expertise that I don’t have. The fact that the UK is no longer in the EU has doubtless not made things any simpler.

But yes, I am sure that the ABV “should” be rounded, and the vast majority of bottles are compliant. I also believe all the details I mentioned above are correct, but am a little less certain of my memory on those.

I presume it is not seen as a high priority to police the ABV wine regulations. It is not unusual in other areas to see laws that are flouted with impunity. How many speeding and parking offences result in procecutions?

You would have to ask Markovitis what they know about the regulations, and their implementation of them. Maybe they just think they are stupid and think they need to be challenged. If so, I agree.

I’ve read the EU regulation* and it definitely states that wines must have their abv percentage expressed as xx.0 or xx.5%.

So, yes, the Greek wine label is illegal.

US wine labels show actual percentage and frequently hide it away in small print and unclear colours, that’s why most importers stick a clear white label on the back that carries the percentage expressed as xx.0 or xx.5% in correctly sized print in a contrasting colour.

Label regulation basically says that anything not expressly allowed is illegal, which is why the Surgeon General’s warning on US labels is covered by importers.

I’ve wondered why RSA wines get away with with their ridiculous warnings.

But, as Steve remarks, there has to be people to police and prosecute, and they are few and have probably have more important things to do.

*this question has come up before on various forums

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My original post in this thread did quote from the EU still wine labelling regulations dated July 2019, The whole paragraph does not add anything regarding rounding:-

6.Alcoholic strength
The alcoholic strength or “abv” must be shown as whole or half units e.g. XX%vol. or XX.5%vol.
The alcohol strength figure must (shall) be followed by the ‘% vol’ symbol andmay be preceded by the words ‘actual alcoholic strength’, ‘actual alcohol’ or‘alc’. The size of the statement must be must be equal to or greater than 1,2mm, regardless of the character format used.

I note that at the end that it says:-
The guidance will be reviewed in December 2021. If you wish to give comments on this guidance please email winestandards@food.gov.uk
so I assume it is still current within the UK.

As I downloaded it some time ago I don’t have a link to it but it appears to have been provided by the Food Standards Agency.

I have just noticed that ‘Europe’s Beating Cancer Plan’ adopted on 3 February 2021 announces that the Commission will propose to introduce the mandatory indication of the list of ingredients and the nutrition declaration on labels of all alcoholic beverages .

If we get any more of this bureaucracy there won’t be enough room for all the labels. It is bad enough already for foodstuffs in smaller cans and jars.

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I for one quite like knowing what I’m eating and drinking.

Certainly I think the potential eye-strain from reading small print is the lesser of the two evils.

I think one option is to permit use of a QR code to direct the consumer to all the required information. That seems to me a neater solution.

The ingredients list may include items such as preservatives and stabilising agents referred to as INSnnn, similar to E numbers for food additives.

I’ve never understood what the term “ingredient” means for wine.

There may be many types of non-grape stuff added, but some of that is removed again, or it gets transformed into something else, or causes other transformations to take place.

Are we interested in what is added (which may not be there when we drink the wine), or do we want to know what we are drinking (which is a complex set of chemicals, mainly the result of fermenting grapes)?

Personally I think what is missing is information about inputs, including fining agents and contact with oak. Regarding contents, we already know the ABV and allergens, and that is enough.

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