• dehydrated ethanol;
  • ethanol origin;
  • wine watering


Since 1986 the European Union has established official isotopic analysis methods for detecting the illegal addition of sugar and water to wine and to enable geographical traceability. In this paper we investigate the possibility of using analysis of the 18O/16O stable isotope ratio (expressed as δ18O) of ethanol to improve detection of the watering of wine and to determine the origin of ethanol. Sixty-nine authentic wine samples from all over Italy, 59 spirits from fruit and cereals, 5 chemically synthesized ethanols, one concentrated and rectified must, one beet and one cane sugar, one fresh must, and 6 waters with increasing δ18O values were considered. Ethanol was recovered by distillation, using a Cadiot spinning band column, following the official OIV methods. The residual water was trapped by storing the distillate for at least 24 h on a molecular sieve. The 18O/16O ratio was measured using a pyrolyser interfaced with an isotope ratio mass spectrometer. The δ-18O of ethanol is significantly related to the δ18O of the fermentation water and can be considered as a reliable internal reference. The values ranged from +24‰ to +36‰ in wine (years 2008 to 2012), +10‰ to +26‰ in fruit and cereal distillates, and from –2‰ to +12‰ in synthetic ethanol. The method was shown to be effective in improving detection of the watering of wine and determining the origin of ethanol (from grapes, other fruit, or synthesis), but not in detecting the addition of cane or beet sugar to wine.

Practical Application

The method can be used to improve the detection of illegal watering of wine.