Don’t trust the label – or better still DON’T drink and drive!

10 January 2016

recent study has found that wine actually contains more alcohol than manufacturers are putting on the label. The findings are not only worrying for health reasons but could be unwittingly putting drinkers over the drink-driving limit.

Researchers in America tested about 100,000 bottles from around the world and found the alcohol content was higher in nearly 60% of wines. The worst offenders were Chilean, Argentinian and Spanish reds, which had the biggest difference between alcohol content and the bottle's label. Chilean and American white wine were also among those with the largest margin of error. The difference was an average of 0.42%, which meant the sampled Chilean reds were advertised at 13.5% but actually contained 13.8%.

The American reds had 14% but said they contained 13.8% on the label and the US whites had 13.7% compared to the label claim of 13.4%. According to NHS guidelines, the discrepancies could mean that for a woman, a large glass of the average US, Chilean or Spanish red could make her over the drink-driving limit. 

Lead author Professor Julian Alston, of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, whose research was published in the Journal of Wine Economics explained that the discrepancy might not seem large but could have consequences.

Writing in the study he said: "A discrepancy of 0.4 percentage points might not seem large relative to an actual value of 13.6 per cent alcohol by volume, but even errors of this magnitude could lead consumers to underestimate the amount of alcohol they have consumed in ways that could have some consequences for their health and driving safety.

“In particular instances the discrepancies could be much larger than average.

“An average error of 0.4 percentage points is much more significant compared with the typical range for wines in a particular category, for instance, Napa Valley Cabernet might be expected to have alcohol content within the range of 13.5–14.5 per cent alcohol by volume, and an average error of 0.4 percentage points is large in the context of this range."

Scientists said they found a "tendency to overstate the alcohol content for wine that has relatively low actual alcohol, and a tendency to understate the alcohol content for wine that has relatively high alcohol content."

Alcohol charities have since raised concerns that manufacturers were deliberately misleading the public for profit.

Tom Smith, Director of Campaigns at Alcohol Concern, told the Daily Telegraph: “We need the Government to ensure accurate health warnings on alcohol products are made mandatory, as is standard practice in other countries.

“The public should be able to make informed choices about their health and drinkers have a right to know what they’re consuming.

“For consumers to be fully informed, every alcohol label should include an evidence-based health warning about the risks of drinking, as well as describing the product’s nutritional, calorific and alcohol unit content.”

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This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.