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Regulating wine

Regulating wine

Generally speaking, I don't object to reasonable efforts to regulate industry on behalf of consumers.

But a recent announcement from the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the agency charged with overseeing wine labeling in the United States, seems to represent the kind of regulatory thinking that brought us auto-windshield shades imprinted with the warning "don't drive while using this thing."

Apparently concerned that consumers might be confused, ATF has declared it illegal to label a wine as "effervescent" ... if it doesn't have bubbles.

"As you may be aware," the agency wrote in an April 5 statement, federal regulation "prohibit any person from representing any still wine as an effervescent wine, or as a substitute for an effervescent wine."

This might seem to go without saying, but to ensure that there's no misunderstanding, regulators have come up with a specific list of terms that may not appear on still (non-sparkling) wines: Petillant, Spumante, Perlant, Frizzante, Spritz/Spritzy, Bubble/Bubbly, Sparkle/Sparkling, Tingle/Tingly, Cremant and Crackling, with a marginal note warning, "This is not an all-inclusive list."

(This is actually a pretty good international glossary of terms for wines with varying degrees of carbonation, although it was somewhat flawed by the inclusion of "Reciotto," an apparently mispelled variation on the Italian "Recioto," a word that has absolutely nothing to do with sparkling wine. I've asked ATF for clarification on this - if they respond to my E-mail, I'll pass it along.)

Finally, the regulators point out that the term "lively," which in the past was on the list of banned terms, is now permissible on still-wine labels - subject to permission being given on a case-by-case basis, "provided that it is not used in such a way that it is likely to mislead consumers to believe that the wine is effervescent."

I hope you are as reassured as I am to learn that the regulators are watching out for our best interests.

If you would like to read the full text of the ATF news release, it's online at


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Tuesday, April 9, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.

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