For an industry that is legally prohibited from promoting any positive health benefits of drinking wine, this latest move stings.
The government's objective is to warn consumers with allergies about the ingredients used in winemaking. But the industry and its trade groups oppose the measure, calling it a solution in search of a problem.
The proposed rule from the Tax and Trade Bureau of the Alcohol and Tobacco unit under the U.S. Department of the Treasury would require wine labels to state whether the wine is made with one or more of eight major food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat or soybeans.
The San Francisco-based Wine Institute says ingredients such as egg whites, a milk protein called casein, and isinglass, a substance derived from fish guts, are often used to clarify the wine before bottling. These agents bond with yeast, bacteria and excess tannins, creating a larger molecule that sinks to the bottom of the barrel, leaving clear wine above. The agents are filtered out before bottling.
Gladys Horiuchi, communications manager at the Wine Institute, said wheat-based glues are sometimes used in sealing barrels. "Sometimes when they wash them out, wheat can get left behind." She also said there is "no definitive test" available to ascertain the presence of eggs, milk, wheat or fish in wine.
Russell Robbins, manager of the U.S. operations of Laffort Oenologie, a French wine supply company, told the Wine Institute that "there are no known instances of persons with fish allergies having any reaction to wine treated with isinglass, including winemakers that have known sensitivities to fish."
Some groups, like the Wine Institute, are asking the government to delay implementing the proposed rule until scientific testing improves. Others would like to see a global approach that is consistent.
Federal officials are looking to finalize a ruling by the end of the year.