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Wine: TTB and the ick factor

When wine lovers hear about the Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, it's most likely because a winemaker has whined that his favorite label art was officially rejected. But the TTB does more than just protect consumers from questionable images on wine labels.

In the past few months, the TTB has issued several bulletins, called
Industry Circulars, showing enforcement action against fraud and unauthorized pesticides in wine. A circular dated May 3 requires that any importers bringing in pinot noir from the Languedoc-Rousillon region of southern France must first obtain a certification of authenticity from the French government. This stems from the Red Bicyclette scandal, in which E. and J. Gallo Co. bought bulk pinot noir wine from a French supplier that turned out to be made from other, less-expensive grapes.

In late March, the TTB lifted a similar requirement for importers of Brunello di Montalcino, a pricey Sangiovese from Tuscany. That action marked the end of an official U.S. investigation into a fraud scandal that erupted two years ago, when Italian authorities accused several producers of illegally spiking their 2003 Brunellos with cabernet sauvignon. As part of its probe, the TTB had slowed label approval of any new imports of Tuscan wine, in what an agency spokesman called "due diligence."

These actions are meant to protect us from fraud, but at least we would still be drinking wine. The "ick" factor is much higher for a circular the TTB issued March 23 and addressed to "wine producers, rectifiers, blenders, importers and wholesalers, and others concerned." (I am stumped about what "rectifiers" are.) This missive reminded
the industry that Environmental Protection Agency regulations allow certain pesticide residues in wine only to approved limits, while other pesticides are banned altogether.

You see, every three years or so (due to limited resources), the TTB buys several domestic and imported wines at retail and analyzes them for compliance with various regulations, including labeling laws, and, as it turns out, pesticides. This circular was prompted by discovery of the unauthorized pesticide oxadixyl in an imported wine, TTB spokesman Arthur Resnick said in response to my e-mail query. Oxadixyl is a fungicide used to combat downy mildew, a scourge of wine grapes. The agency did not disclose the name of the offending wine, including recalling the adulterated product.  But it is nice to know someone is checking for pesticides in our wine, even if they won't tell us which wines to avoid.

Rather makes me want to stick to the certified organic kind.

-- Dave McIntyre (Follow me on Twitter.)

By The Food Section  |  May 13, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Wine  | Tags: Dave McIntyre, Wine  
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Comments

rectification is to adjust the alcohol content, either by additional fermentation, distillation, or adulteration with spirits.

Posted by: miket000 | May 19, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

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