How sweet it is… or not

Sugar addition post-fermentation is not allowed in wine produced in the EU or imported into the EU. (Photo: Pexels)

The recent Yealands Estate controversy in Marlborough over sugar addition to wine (see Bob’s article on Monday) raises questions about the Australian law relating to sugar addition to wine. Several people have been prosecuted over the adulteration.

Australian law differs from New Zealand’s in that it prohibits sugar addition to wine – except in sparkling wines.

The Yealands wines, which had sugar added to sweeten them post-fermentation and were exported to the EU, could have been exported to Australia with impunity. Sugar addition post-fermentation is not allowed in wine produced in the EU or imported into the EU.

Australian law differs from New Zealand’s in that it prohibits sugar addition to wine – except in sparkling wines, where it can be added for the secondary fermentation and again in the expedition liqueur after disgorgement. This law applies to wine made in Australia, but not to wine made elsewhere and imported for sale into Australia.

There are no health implications for wine sweetened with dry sugar. Its banning in Australia is all about reputation – the desire for wine to be as natural a product as possible.

I asked Steve Guy, general manager, market access, for Wine Australia, if the laws relating to wine in its country of origin were accepted for all imports into Australia.

He said:

“All wine, Australian or imported, must comply with the ANZ Food Standards Code.

“But only Australian wine is further restricted by Standard 4.5.1.

This standard only permits sweetening via grape juice, or grape juice concentrate.”

He added, by way of explanation:

“We impose a tighter standard on ourselves than on others, to preserve and enhance our reputation as a quality wine producer.”

Footnote: A great deal of cheaper, supermarket New Zealand sauvignon blanc is imported in bulk into Australia, and bottled here. The supermarkets presumably do this to save on freight, as glass is heavy.

Out of curiosity, I asked Steve Guy if that wine could be legally sweetened in Australia with sugar before it’s bottled. (At what point does the ‘winemaking’ finish?) He confirmed that any sweetening of this nature must be done in New Zealand. It could, of course, be sweetened with concentrate in Australia.

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