Key Points:

A New Zealand winery whose shipment of pinot noir was rejected by Germany because it contained too much copper has bottles with similar levels for sale here.

The Te Kairanga 2006 Pinot Noir on shop shelves has 2.09 parts per million (ppm) of copper in it - more than double the recommended limit set by the European Union. But New Zealand has no set limit for copper in wine and the Food Safety Authority says wine drinkers need not be concerned.

The Weekend Herald had the copper levels of 10 wines tested after it was revealed that a 4000-case shipment of Te Kairanga pinot noir was turned back by a German company that found its 2.4 ppm of copper breached the European Union limit of 1 ppm.

The testing found that all but the Te Kairanga pinot noir were within the European limit.

Te Kairanga acting chief executive Ian Frame said it was "no surprise" there was a high level of copper in another of its wines - they were similar wines and copper was added to take away the smelly characteristics associated with the sulphur compounds formed in the winemaking process.

Mr Frame said the copper levels were within the good manufacturing practice standards set by the Food Safety Authority, which say copper "should be kept as low as reasonably achievable".

"There isn't a safety issue, and we don't have an ethical issue," Mr Frame said.

He said Te Kairanga had not decided what it would do with the returned wine.

Food Safety Authority principal toxicology adviser John Reeve said the authority had examined the safety of adding copper to wine this week after the German rejection and there was no associated health risk with copper - an essential element for humans - at levels of around 2 ppm.

"You would need at least 200-300 parts per million before you got above the acceptable daily intake," Mr Reeve said. "The wine would be blue and it would probably have a metallic taste too, which wouldn't go down too well."

Copper is not routinely checked for export certification in New Zealand. Nor is copper checked in wine for sale in the New Zealand market.

Industry body New Zealand Winegrowers is unconcerned about the rejection, saying the German market is "pedantic about rules and regulations", with the addition of copper in wine a long-standing technique.

Wine writer and critic Keith Stewart, who revealed the wine had been rejected from Germany, said consumers had to ask themselves if they were happy with the industry self-regulating the use of additives in wine.


* Small amounts of copper are sometimes placed in batches of wine to remove the smell of sulphur that can occur in the winemaking process.

* Copper can also occur naturally. What are the health effects?

* Copper is actually a daily requirement for humans. The amount in wines could actually help fulfil this.

* An overdose could cause serious problems such as liver damage and kidney failure.

* However, the less severe overdose symptom of vomiting is likely to prevent too much being ingested.