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Allison Levine, Please The Palate: Is clean wine the new Hydroxychloroquine?
Please The Palate

Allison Levine, Please The Palate: Is clean wine the new Hydroxychloroquine?

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T-shirts are from wine blogger Rick Dean, who writes "Strong Coffee to Red Wine" as well as creating T-shirts that are commentaries on current events. 

Last week, the wine world was in an uproar. Another celebrity entered the wine industry: Cameron Diaz and her fashionista friend Katherine Power launched their “clean wine” brand Avaline.

Alder Yarrow of Vinography immediately called the wine a “commercial scam” and pointed out the fallacy of their claim of “clean wine,” while Esther Mobley warned readers in the San Francisco Chronicle “don’t believe the ‘clean’ hype,” calling Diaz’s claims a “hoax at worst and ignorant at best.”

Sommelier Victoria James chimed in with “Why Celebrity Wines Are Failing” for Esquire Magazine, where she commented that “simply saying your wine is ‘organic’ or ‘clean’ isn’t a revelation when most good wines use this as a bare minimum requirement.”

And then there was Felicity Carter’s piece for the Guardian titled “The Goopification of grapes: why ‘clean wine’ is a scam.”

Avaline Wine is not the only brand selling us a handful of fluffy buzz words. Winc, the wine delivery company, jumped on the “clean wine” bandwagon and launched The Wonderful Wine Co. in May. And, Good Clean Wine, the brainchild of Courtney Dunlop and Elle Feldman, put the false claim of “clean wine” right in the name of their brand.

There is a sense of supremacy with these “clean wine” brands and, in turn, there are implications that wines not prominently labeled “clean wine” must be “dirty” or “unclean.”

This, of course, is patently false. There is no ‘official’ definition of ‘clean wine’; that is the issue. These people claim to not add any chemicals and therefore it is ‘clean wine.’

These “clean wine” brands are taking advantage of the fact that the Food and Drug Administration does not require wineries to list their ingredients on a label. However, neither does the FDA require any certification or testing to use terms like “clean” or “natural” wine on labels or in marketing.

Having little insight into the world of wine, these “clean wine” purveyors point the finger at the industry, accusing everyone else of a lack of transparency. They claim moral superiority by implying everyone else is using dreaded “additives” or all the chemicals they can in their wines.

But look at any of the company websites of these “clean wines” and you will not learn any more than you did with that vapid Cameron Diaz video. “Clean wine” companies are no more transparent about their wines or winemaking process; in fact, most are horrifically vague and obtuse compared to your average independent winery or producer.

Most winery websites feature plenty of information about the history of the winery, the winemaker, viticulture practices and winemaking philosophies. On a “clean wine” website, there is very little information about where the wines come from, where the grapes are grown or who makes them. These “clean wine” brands (not to be confused with “natural wine”) fill their websites with superficial buzz words, stock photos and hardly any information at all.

The founders of these “clean wine” companies seem to abhor all the other wines in the marketplace because they are not “clean” in their eyes. But I have to wonder if any of them actually went out and explored the vast world of wine before making their claims.

Did they travel to wine regions and visit small and mid-sized producers? Did they go to wine shops and talk to the knowledgeable staff? Did they just buy inexpensive mass- produced brands off the grocery store shelves that were made with additives in order to deepen the color, raise the alcohol level and sweeten the final product? Or did they pick up a bottle of “organic wine” (not “organically grown” or “organically certified”) at Trader Joe’s and decide everyone else must be just as bad or worse?

Of course, for consumers looking to lead healthier lifestyles that include wine, words like “zero sugar”, “gluten-free”, “non-GMO”, “Ketogenic wines”, “Paleo friendly”, “vegan”, “carb free”, and “sulfite free”, all sound appealing. But brands like Avaline, The Wonderful Wine Co. and Good Clean Wine, as well as others such as Dry Farm Wines, Usual Wines, Bev Wine, Fit Vine Wine and more lionize these unregulated buzz terms that ultimately mean nothing and cannot be quantified or certified, and, in turn, demonize anyone that does not use them.

I am inundated with Facebook ads that regularly push brands using nothing but promotional buzz words, and I have no interest in even sampling these wines, because I already know enough about them. I applaud these brands for their marketing acumen, but these trendy, yet disingenuous, claims and the misinformation are a disservice to the consumer and almost always mean a mediocre wine at best.

The reality is that wineries have been producing wines that are “good for you” for decades. A “dry wine” by definition will have an almost imperceptible amount of unfermentable sugar. It is one thing to say “no added sugar” (which few states and countries allow by law, and typically only for very specific wine styles), but to claim a wine has “zero sugar” is fallible and laughable.

The same holds true with “low carb.” Naturally, if a product has little sugar in it, it is low carbohydrate, so all dry wines are in essence “low carb.” When brands like Dry Farm Wines and The Wonderful Wine Co. market their wines as low carb, they may get immediate recognition points, but their wines do not have less carbs than any other bottle of dry wine that you may pull off the shelf. In fact, just like beer, the only way to realistically lower the level of carbohydrates in a wine would be to water it down beyond recognition. And who wants to drink a watered-down wine?

Low-sugar and low-carb products also automatically qualify as Keto-friendly and Paleo-friendly, so in essence, every dry wine ever produced is Keto- and Paleo-friendly. Again, companies like Dry Farm Wines and The Wonderful Wine Co. that actively market their wines under these empty buzzwords do not have any exclusivity in this category and yet by using these buzz words in their marketing, they imply other wines are not low-carb, Keto-friendly or Paleo-friendly. In fact, quite the opposite.

I understand that brands are trying to stand out on the grocery store shelves or draw eyes through digital marketing and social media. But by misusing terms and relying on fluffy buzzwords, not only are brands tricking the consumer, but they are also lumping all other wines into one big group of “others.”

Remember, all wineries can use these terms, but most do not, because the terms have nothing to do with the enjoyment of the wine. Wine should be enjoyed because of the flavor and the way it makes you feel, not for the “health benefits” and what it can do for you.

If we care about what we put in our bodies, we need to see beyond these buzz words. We need to stay away from mass-marketed wines that exist solely to promote a specific trendy buzzword or “lifestyle” that no one will care about in six months, and we need to explore small and medium-sized producers who are making wine independent of corporately-mandated vernacular and focus-group tested boxes. We need to use critical thinking and ask questions. Ask the winemakers; ask the sommeliers; ask the staff at the wine store. Look up the website of a wine brand to find out about certifications, farming practices and winemaking philosophies. If the bottle does not provide the information, then that smart phone in your hand will be invaluable.

Or, if you insist on basing your entire enjoyment of wine exclusively around labels that tout their clean, healthy, Keto-friendly, Paleo-intensive, gluten-free and sugar-free bona fides right there on the bottle or in celebrity-saturated online videos, perhaps you would also consider supplementing your glass of wine with a shot of bleach. I have heard it does wonders cleaning the lungs.

Watch now: ACME Fine Wines named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 50 Best Wine Retailers in America

Allison Levine is owner of Please The Palate, a marketing and event-planning agency. A freelance writer, she contributes to numerous publications while eating and drinking her way around the world. Allison is also the host of the wine podcast Wine Soundtrack USA. Contact her at allison@pleasethepalate.com.

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