Is Your Favorite Wine Involved in a Health Lawsuit Over High Arsenic Levels?

Recently, a lawsuit was brought against the producers of 83 bottles of wine with dangerously high levels of arsenic. These bottles came from 28 California wineries and were bottled under 31 different brand labels which included several different types of wine, such as merlot, chardonnay, burgundy, rose, etc.

This lawsuit is not, however, brought by the FDA. As there is almost no federal labeling required on wine bottles, it is up to independent laboratories to test the contents of one of our favorite adult beverages. And when one lab in Denver took this challenge on, their discovery was a bombshell.

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Kevin Hicks, a 15-year veteran of the wine distribution business who runs BeverageGrades is filing the lawsuit. He decided to do so when he began testing bottles of wine and stumbled across the shocking results.

He told CBS that what he discovered were "Some very, very high levels of arsenic."

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After testing more than 1,300 bottles, he revealed that almost a quarter of them had higher levels of arsenic that the EPA's maximum allowable amount in in drinking water: 10 parts per billion. Unexpectedly, the wines that tested positively for unusually high levels of arsenic followed a particular pattern. 

"The lower the price of wine on a per-liter basis, the higher the amount of arsenic," he said.

Examples include:

  • Trader Joe's Two-Buck Chuck White Zinfandel, at three times the legal limit.
  • Ménage à Trois Moscato with four times the legal limit of arsenic.
  • Franzia White Grenache, which had five times the EPA limit for drinking water.

Hicks' research, however, does not draw conclusions as to why cheaper prices equal more toxic contents.

Other researchers have speculated that the cause of these elevated levels could be from arsenic entering the wine during the filtration process, pesticides from the vineyards, or even be just through naturally absorbed nutrients in the soil.  

The Water Benchmark

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The United States EPA only regulates the arsenic levels of one beverage: drinking water. However, Hicks based his wine study's conclusions off the limits set on tap water.

Since the federal government doesn't regulate wine in the same manner as water, a spokesperson from The Wine Group, one of the companies named in the lawsuit, told CBS News, "It would not be accurate or responsible to use the water standard as the baseline" because people (hopefully) drink more water than they do wine.

The spokesperson also mentioned that the highest level of arsenic cited in the lawsuit is "only half of Canada's standard for wine, of 100 parts per billion." The cited level is also only one-quarter as high as what is permitted in bottle throughout Europe. 

Is Your Favorite Wine on the List?

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Those labels and the types of wine cited in the complaint according to the Associated Press:

-- Acronym (GR8RW Red Blend).

-- Almaden (Heritage White Zinfandel, Heritage Moscato, Heritage Chardonnay, Mountain Burgundy, Mountain Rhine, Mountain Chablis).

-- Arrow Creek (Coastal Series Cabernet Sauvignon).

-- Bandit (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon).

-- Bay Bridge (Chardonnay).

-- Beringer (White Merlot, White Zinfandel, Red Moscato, Refreshingly Sweet Moscato).

-- Charles Shaw (White Zinfandel).

-- Colores Del Sol (Malbec).

-- Glen Ellen by Concannon (Glen Ellen Reserve Pinot Grigio, Glen Ellen Reserve Merlot).

-- Concannon (Selected Vineyards Pinot Noir).

-- Cook's (Spumante).

-- Corbett Canyon (Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon).

-- Cupcake (Malbec).

-- Fetzer (Moscato, Pinot Grigio).

-- Fisheye (Pinot Grigio).

-- Flipflop (Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Cabernet Sauvignon).

-- Foxhorn (White Zinfandel).

-- Franzia (Vintner Select White Grenache, Vintner Select White Zinfandel, Vintner Select White Merlot, Vintner Select Burgundy).

-- Hawkstone (Cabernet Sauvignon).

-- HRM Rex Goliath (Moscato).

-- Korbel (Sweet Rose Sparkling Wine, Extra Dry Sparkling Wine).

-- Menage A Trois (Pinot Grigo, Moscato, White Blend, Chardonnay, Rose, Cabernet Sauvignon, California Red Wine).

-- Mogen David (Concord, Blackberry Wine).

-- Oak Leaf (White Zinfandel).

-- Pomelo (Sauvignon Blanc).

-- R Collection By Raymond (Chardonnay).

-- Richards Wild Irish Rose (Red Wine).

-- Seaglass (Sauvignon Blanc).

-- Simply Naked (Moscato).

-- Smoking Loon (Viognier).

-- Sutter Home (Sauvignon Blanc, Gerwurztraminer, Pink Moscato, Pinot Grigio, Moscato, Chenin Blanc, Sweet Red, Riesling, White Merlot, Merlot, White Zinfandel).

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