Sales of Austrian wines were banned nationwide yesterday after federal chemists found four brands tainted with a deadly chemical normally added to automobile antifreeze, officials from the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms announced.
Apparently used to sweeten wine and increase its price, the chemical -- diethylene glycol -- was found on Thursday in samples of 1983 white wines and rose wines in the Chicago area. When bureau chemists in Rockville discovered two grams of the poison per bottle in a case of 1982 white wine yesterday, the emergency ban was imposed.
"Fifteen grams of diethylene glycol will kill you, five grams will do a lot of kidney damage and one gram will make you very sick to your stomach," said Dot Koester, a BATF spokeswoman. "We warn people not to drink any Austrian wine pending the outcome of further tests because diethylene glycol may cause nausea, kidney dysfunction and death depending on the amount you ingest."
The tainted wines are 1982 St. Margarethener Auslese, a white wine produced in Austria but bottled and shipped from West Germany by Weinkellere, Joseph Dawer Sohne; Illmitcen Felsonecker, a 1983 Beerenauslese rose, Illmitcen Kaisergarten, a 1983 Beerenauslese white and Ruster, a Beerenauslese white.
"We don't know the scope of this yet; it could be just these four wines or it could be many more," Koester said.
"We're not saying all Austria wine contains diethylene glycol, but if I were a consumer and I had Austrian wine in my wine cabinet I would not drink it until we determine which brands have it," said Bob Maxwell, deputy associate director of compliance for BATF.
Maxwell suggested that consumers bring Austrian wines to the bureau for testing or return the wines to retailers.
Walter Mayr, the Austrian trade commissioner in Washington, said yesterday that Austrian officials discovered the bad wine in April and have since confiscated more than 47,026 gallons of tainted wine.