A Delightful Aroma with Just a Hint of Arsenic

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Shaw white zinThe news — or partial news, as is often the case with misinformation — that California wines are loaded with arsenic has sent people into a panic. I hope you didn't do anything rash like pour all your Napa and Sonoma County wines down the drain. Well, I do hope you poured your Cook's spumante out, if you had any.

In case you missed the report, a lawsuit was filed last week against several winemakers that claims they are selling wines with high levels of arsenic. Specifically, 83 bottles of wine from 28 California wineries that are sold under 31 brand levels were cited. All of them might conservatively be referred to as cheap wine. Among them, certain wines from Almaden, Sutter Home and Charles Shaw, which is sold at Trader Joe's and commonly referred to as 'Two Buck Chuck" by fans and detractors alike. (Actually, the wine sells for closer to four bucks these days, but never mind that.) And not all the wines produced from those winemakers was named as having dangerous levels of arsenic. For example, only the Charles Shaw white zinfandel was cited. (You can see the full list in this article from AP.)

According to a Wine-Searcher article titled Scaremongers Spark Fear Over Arsenic in Wine, which highlights the expected distain of the winemaking community, the lawsuit has little chance of succeeding because there are no standards in place regarding accepted levels of arsenic. California does have a limit of arsenic in drinking water of 10 parts per billion. The suit claims that an independent laboratory found up to 50 parts per billion in some of the named wines. The article claims that that is one fourth as much as what is permitted in Europe.

The U.S. government does have standards for arsenic in such things as apple and grape juice, and arsenic levels in rice has been in the news recently, as well. (Arsenic, besides being a poison in high levels, is a known carcinogen.)

And about that independent laboratory. It was Denver based BeverageGrades, owned by Kevin Hicks, who was not named as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. However, the company said in a press release on Thursday, the day the suit was filed, that it believes that alcoholic beverages should undergo a screening process and be properly certified for purity. That happens to be what BeverageGrades does. So, a dog in the fight, if you will.

It's always a good idea to buy wine from a trusted winemaker through a reliable retailer. But right now, there probably isn't a reason to dump the cheap stuff down the drain. Unless it's that Cook's spumante. Seriously, don't drink that crap.

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