Thursday, 26 June 2014

All you need to know about Sainsbury's Winemaker's Selection Argentinian Malbec

The phrase “That’s more than I needed to know…” is generally applied to rather off-putting details about something repellent. Well…

There seems to be an inverse relationship between the standard of a wine, and the amount of information its labels provide. Some of the greatest wines in the world tell you little more than their name, and their vintage. What more do they need to say? Whereas the cheap grot doles out as much information as possible, as if by presenting a heap of indisputable but often unnecessary facts about the wine, they will bury the key truth, that it may not taste remotely credible.

And here, providing a suspiciously voluminous amount of facts, is one of the first wines in the UK to present calorie information on its label. It follows research by Sainsbury’s which discovered that 85% of Britons do not know how many calories there are in a glass of wine. 

Hardly surprising, is it, given that nothing like 85% of Britons actually drink wine? 

Anyway, Lord Sainsbury believes in “providing consumers with the information that they need to make informed choices”. And as a result, the back label of his Winemakers’ Selection Argentinian Malbec is a gigantic mess of information, containing tables, graphics, symbols, codes, a barcode, phone numbers, postcodes and a small map. Oh, and a calorie count. 

The question is, on a need to know basis, how much of this do we actually need to know?

The label tells you that it’s vegan, which will certainly not trouble 85% of Britons. That the closure is screwcap, because you might not have noticed, and that this wine bottle is glass – as opposed to?

It tells you that “It is recommended that this wine be consumed within 1 year of purchase”. Always a depressing statement on a bottle of red wine; it means it’s not going to get any better.

There is allergy advice, which tells you that it contains sulphites. But interestingly, there is no other indication of what is actually in it. Grapes? Sugar? Sawdust? Ink? Who knows? Clearly not “information you need to make informed choices”.

Of course there is the whole “units of alcohol” business, and a warning to “Avoid alcohol if pregnant or trying to conceive”. Although I always thought a couple of glasses of alcohol were a key step in the process of trying to conceive…

And there, squeezed into a little gap by the alcohol percentage by volume, the capacity of the bottle and that funny-looking e symbol which few of us understand, it tells us about the calorie count.

It uses the presumably technical term “Nutrition:”, which makes you feel better about the whole enterprise, since viewing wine as nutritious is clearly a positive move. “Just having my glass of nutrients, dear…” You begin to think this is something you might be buying from a pharmacy.

And the label tells us that per 100ml, this wine contains 399kJ/95kcal – and that a 125ml glass (a cough and a spit, but we’ll let that go) contains 499kJ/119kcal.

Now, looking up calories online is a nightmare. It’s like trying to compare broadband charges, or energy costs. Everyone seems to come up with different figures; one sure way to lose weight is from the stress of comparing differing calorie counts. Is a glass of wine the equivalent of two fish fingers, or four? And I am now fixated on the discovery that there are 4 calories in a Twiglet. Which would be the harder way to get 119 calories past my lips – 1 glass of this wine, or a fasces of 30 Twiglets?

Because there lies the problem. Having told us that this wine damages your liver, causes obesity, hinders conception and upsets your sulphites allergy, Sainsbury’s have a simple method of preventing unhealthy over-indulgence – it’s horrible. 

This is a fact strangely omitted from their label, which mentions fruits like blackberry and cherry, but not a nose of old dishcloth, or a flaccid taste of damp cardboard and candle wax. Frankly, they’re quite safe putting a calorie count on this, because in order to exceed your quota you’d need the determination of an Olympian – in which case you’d be unlikely to have a problem with obesity.

So, it’s horrible. Which, beyond all of the information crammed on to that label, is actually all ye need to know. 

Conveniently, however, the label does provide a Careline phone number. So if you do happen to drink any, and you need to talk to someone about it…



  1. Re your comment about 'contains sulphites' but nothing else..agree 100%, plus I would say the issue it's not that it contains sulphites per se (it needs to or will probably go off..this wine excepted 'cos sounds like it already is), it's how much sulphites..that's the clue to allergy / hangover / crap mass production. This is one rare case where a traffic light system on the label makes sense.
    Yours, an organic winemaker (but not a tree-hugging natural wine beardy).