jamie goode's wine blog: Channel 4 Dispatches: what's in your wine?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Channel 4 Dispatches: what's in your wine?

Last night Channel 4 aired an episode of Dispatches titled 'What's in your wine?' (You can watch it here for the next seven days).

It was a desperately poor programme. Some months ago one of the researchers got in touch with me asking questions about what goes into wine. It seemed to me that they'd decided to make a film showing that all sorts of bad things are added to wine, and they were just fishing for dirt. After a couple of conversations and a few email exchanges I decided that I wasn't prepared to help them and go on camera (the bait they used to get some dirt), because this seemed to me to be a hatchet job. While there are many things in the wine industry I'm not happy about, overall, wine is a remarkably natural product and even badly made industrial wine doesn't represent a threat to human health. And I'm not going to help anyone who intends to put the boot into the industry I make my living from.

In the end, they didn't really find any serious targets. They went after Champagne, rather ludicrously making a big play that sugar is added to Champagne. That's the dosage, dude! They had some major brands analysed in their laboratory and found that they contained on average 7 g of sugar per bottle. I could have told you that. The cellarmasters would have told you that. The dosage is an integral part of the production of Champagne. Then they said that fizz they tested from independent producers only had 3.5 g sugar. That's silly. It's just a style choice by the producer. [And Jane, the presenter, mispronounced Mot, not sounding the 't'.]

In an attempt to find examples of producers who added illegal things to their wine, the best they could do was head to Italy where some crazy-looking producer was under prosecution for adding sugar to his wine. Dispatches caught up with him - but rather than run away when he was doorstepped, he seemed happy to chat and admitted that he added sugar. It all went a bit flat.



At 8:47 AM, Anonymous Martin Jones said...

I agree that it was a terribly disappointing programme, all the more so as Jane Moore has done a couple of decent programmes about how consumers in UK are stitched up by supermarkets. She was looking for a story and never really found it. I thought that Jancis Robinson handled her very well, quite gracefully - maybe she recalls her own trial-by-Elizabeth David many years ago?!I was surprised that Malcolm Gluck was so gleeful too.Definitely a missed opportunity - but maybe one that flags up a niche for a decent programme about wine science and how that science can influence, for good or ill, what we drink, Jamie? (ahem!)
Best wishes
Martin Jones

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree. Channel Four picked my brains when they were doing the research and I declined to be interviewed for it once the programme had got the green light. It seemed to me that they had made up their mind what they wanted to find before they'd found it. Most of the programme was drivel.

Tim Atkin MW

At 9:37 AM, Anonymous Graham Kemp said...

One thing that can't be denied (well, you can if you want to), the majority of Champagne is vastly overpriced for what it is, fizzy wine, grown on a land-fill.


At 10:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Grown on a landfill", eh, Graham?! Malcolm would be proud of you :-)

At 11:54 AM, Blogger scampi said...

Hi, I also thought the programme was trying to find a story and scandal that wasn't there! The part about there being fungicide in Champagne sounded bad until they said that it was below safe limits set by law. Surely the same applies to almost all non-organic foodstuffs we consume? Also does it really matter the vines have plastic and broken glass around them, the consumer isn't expected to lick the product off the ground in the vineyard when they buy it!

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Doug said...

Of course it was a pile of steaming ordure, veritable chateau trite-lite. As Victor Lewis-Smith once said of a programme: "It had very educational effect on me. I left the room and read a good book."

I don't understand why they don't get a reputable wine journalist to investigate some of the many real scandals in the wine trade rather than wasting time with such tabloid efforts.

At 2:25 PM, Anonymous Claire said...

I wasn't impressed - I've only been in the drinks industry for a while (as a hack) and don't confess to know a huge amount about wine 'science'. But even I know things are added to wine besides grapes - which is pretty much all this programme seemed to conclude... pointless!

At 2:56 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Thanks for all your comments. I'd also add that one point that the programme made that was legitimate - that ingredients aren't listed on wine bottles - is answered by the fact that there are strict regulations on what can be added to wine, that not very much is added, and the cost of translating this list into all the required languages and then putting it on the label wouldn't be feasilble for most producers - and we'd therefore have less choice as consumers as many wines disappeared from export markets.

At 3:50 PM, Anonymous Javier Perurena said...

...I wonder why this program.
Why this attack to the industry with such lack of documentation.
Misinformed, scary for consumers, offensive for professionals, not only producers but also those who look after the wines brought to the UK.

I wonder where the interest is...

Javier Perurena

At 4:11 PM, Anonymous NeamanBond said...

But why are the producers resistant to labelling their bottles with a list of contents, including any additives and colourings they use?

If they are all as virtuous as these correspondents suggest, they have nothing to worry about.

At 8:49 PM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...

Have not seen the clip yet, so can not comment, but there is ANOTHER injustice and that is John Terry getting off his deliberate professional foul against City. Is this because he is famous? Really makes you wonder about the Premier League with decisions like this.

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great program.
The additives, the junk that's in the soil, the pesticides, the flavouring, HCL, H2SO4, tannin, woodchip, chemicals, methanol, sugar, the lack of labelling, the authotities' feet dragging, the relabelling as one's own of another's wine,...the hype of junk, the poor quality, the collusion between supermarket and producer...
Not surprising.

At 9:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Accept the Industry's word that not very much is added? hmmmmmm, right.

If there's a problem re labelling translation costs, same can be for a pack of sweets from Timbucktu? We don't use that argument for anything else.

Again, very informative. The weasely look of the CIVC and the British Wine and Spirits Assoc. ppl was great.

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good that a pro-wine lobby slant comes tops from a search

At 10:23 PM, Blogger Douglas Blyde said...

Incidentally, the rather charming programme makers filmed the shelves of the shop/bar I manage (with my permission). They said the programme was focussing on a blind tasting of Champagne versus Cava.

Jancis' comments about the polarisation about wine were the biggest warning in my opinion, far more interesting than the addition of suphur. And an ingredients label, by definition, need not feature items prescribed for fining etc. (these are after all not present in the finished wine).

At 9:56 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Jane Moore, who presents the programme, has a column in the sun - a UK tabloid newspaper - here's what she says about the issue:


At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Tim Carlisle said...

Let's be honest - she works for The Sun, should we be suprised that she is ill informed, kicks up a big storm on things she knows nothing about.

Let's be honest oak chips are old news, she spends a lot of time going on about fining agents which frankly make no difference - and only a blond who obviously has to worry about her weight would worry about the levels of sugar in a champagne.
Two words



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