Concerns raised of sale of cooking wine

February 27, 1997


Staff Writer

Cooking wines sold in grocery stores raised concerns Wednesday among Washington County Liquor Board officials, who said the product has the potential for abuse.

Liquor store owners placed the issue before the board, saying that some cooking wines contain more alcohol than the table wines and beer they sell.

But grocery stores aren't regulated by the state's liquor control laws, said John Zombro, of Central City Liquors.

Zombro held up two bottles of cooking wine, which he said he asked his 15-year-old daughter to buy from a local grocery store.


"That's something that I find offensive and that I think other parents would be concerned about," Zombro told members of the liquor board.

Rich Newman, of Potomac Wine and Spirits, said he, too, has a problem with the product being sold in grocery stores.

"The state's losing a lot of alcohol tax revenue," he said.

After looking at the label ingredients, liquor board members said the alcohol content seemed high for a cooking wine. One bottle listed 18 percent alcohol, the equivalent of 36 proof, while another had 12 percent alcohol, the equivalent of 24 proof, they said.

"Some table wines don't have that much," Newman said.

The cooking wines contain more than three times the amount of alcohol than the most potent of beers, Zombro said.

"There's certainly a potential for a problem," said Liquor Board Chairman Donald Mellott. "It should be taken seriously."

Mellott said he'll ask that the matter be examined at an upcoming state liquor board convention.

Jay Binau of the Washington County Restaurant and Beverage Association said he plans to recommend that the group support a ban on grocery store sales of cooking wines and that state legislation be sought to regulate the sales.

Phil Ottavina, an agent with the alcohol and tobacco office of the Maryland Comptroller's Office, said cooking wines aren't regulated because they aren't considered a beverage.

"It seems like an area that could be abused," Ottavina said. "I imagine it tastes pretty lousy, though."

But Zombro said the taste could be altered by adding sugar.

Hagerstown Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff's Department, contacted by phone after the liquor board meeting, said they have received no complaints about cooking wines.

Tony Rivellino of County Market said very little cooking wine is sold off the shelf. "There have been problems associated with aerosol cans and cold remedies, but not cooking wines," he said.

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