Oftentimes, I see articles touting wine as a beverage that is safe for those with gluten intolerance and other food allergies, but you may want to read a little further, and if you are extra sensitive to gluten, milk, wheat, shellfish, possibly peanut/nut, and especially eggs, you may want to say nay to that offered glass if you are not aware of what exactly went into that particular wine.
As with everything you do, educate yourself and prepare yourself as much as possible to mitigate any events that will cause a bad night for you or those you love. Well armed with some facts, you will have a great New Year’s Eve.
But first, a little background about your conventional wineries. In America and many other countries, wineries are not held to the same labeling standards as some countries in the European Union (4) as well as food manufacturers to disclose allergenic ingredients used to make or refine their product. Almost all of the top 8 food allergens may be used during the making and refinement of the wine process. Also consider that the various pesticides used on grape crops typically do not get washed off. The pesticide-coated grapes go straight to crushing and processing (5) and thereby make every glass of conventional wine a potential equivalent of glass of wine plus pesticide cocktail. (I find it interesting that moderate wine-drinking is often lauded as a way to decrease cancer risk while this pesticide issue is rarely mentioned).
So, given this information, there is a potential for those with severe food allergies or sensitivities to harsh chemicals to suffer after having a glass of wine and not even know why.
So First, the Bad News – Reasons That You May Have a Reaction to Wine
1. Wheat flour is often used to seal barrels and a little can get into wine. Also, hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate may be used as a fining agent. (3) If you have Celiac disease or are extremely sensitive to gluten, you many want to pass on conventional wines and opt for a gluten-free beer (or gluten-free specific wine as mentioned below). Although vintners claim that whatever gluten is left should not be enough to be bothersome, there are no guarantees that the flour is completely removed from the final product. How much is left is not known to the consumer.
If you have your heart set on wine, don’t despair, there are some suggestions below. In the meantime, if you also like beer, here are some recommended gluten-free beers: Red Bridge, New Planet, and NGB brands indicate that they are also vegan. Omission uses traditional ingredients such as malted barley while indicating that they have removed the gluten (PLEASE DON’T CONSUME OMISSION IF YOU ARE VERY SENSITIVE as Barley contains gluten.)
IF YOU CAN TOLERATE 5-20 PPM of GLUTEN: We Insist that you try Omission. It is absolutely amazing!!!
We need more information on Bard’s and Estrella before we can make a recommendation.
2. People with migraine triggers, asthma and strong seasonal allergies (especially to mold) may want to stick with the white wines if no other allergies are present. The reason to avoid is that red wines are heavy in sulfites, tannins and histamines (same is true for dark beers) (2). All of these things can trigger a very bad headache, a full migraine episode, and (in some people) flushing, runny nose, swollen mucous membranes and – if allergic to sulfites or extra histamines – a life-threatening anaphylaxis reaction.
3. Conventional wine is not recommended for those with egg allergies. Those with egg allergies should be aware that egg whites (in the form of albumin or pulverized egg shells) are often stirred into the wine so that they will attach to the unpleasant-tasting tannins. This process helps the tannins drop to the bottom of the barrel and makes it easier for the distiller to remove as much of the tannins as possible from the final product. (1) How much of the egg powder that is left in the wine is not known to the consumer.
Also, egg allergy sufferers should be aware that Lysozyme, a substance derived from egg whites, may be used to inhibit lactic acid and bacteria during several stages of the wine-making process. It is typically not removed and remains in the final wine product. (3)
Lastly, egg allergy sufferers may become very sick, particularly from red wine if their allergy is specific to the sulfur in egg yolks. Red wines are very high in sulfites. Most who are allergic to sulfur will also react very negatively to the sulfites in red wine (and also to the sulfites and nitrites in cured meats and dried fruits).
4. Those with milk allergy may find it important to note that casein is used to remove discoloration in white wines. (1)
5. Those with fish allergy should be aware that isinglass, a compound derived from the bellies of sturgeon fish, is used to refine both beer and wine. (2)
6. Shellfish allergy sufferers: chitin (pronounced “Kite-in”), a substance derived from crustaceans, may be used during the fining process of wine. (2)
7. Gelatin is also used during the fining process of wines. For those who are sensitive to animal proteins, this could pose a problem when consuming conventional wine. (2)
8. Those with peanut allergies that have cross-reaction to pea protein should known that pea protein isolate is sometimes used in the production of wine. But not always. Investigation is needed. (6)
9. Soy protein is sometimes used in the fining process. Ask your vintner if they use plant-derived proteins in fining and which ones. (6)
As with anything in life, risk lies in the unknown.
We are still a long way from having the information we need at our disposal to make informed choices. Until you know exactly how your wine is made and processed, you take a risk. So, please be careful and do your homework. Hopefully, we’ve done some of the homework for you so that you don’t have to. There is some good news about wine.
The Good News – Organic, Vegan and Gluten-Free Wines Exist (And So Does Labeling)
Disclaimer: After reading the information below, we recommend that you be extra safe and sure by contacting wine/beer manufacturers to ask about ingredients used during the making and “fining” process.
1. Explore vegan and gluten-free biodynamic wines (usually in the organic wine section). There are some vintners that have established wine-making practices that are not only better for the earth, but also better for our bodies. They are called biodynamic wines. The grapes for these wines are grown according to organic farming standards that eliminate the use of pesticides and keep the soil and grapes healthy and disease-free using natural methods. Soil is fertilized with compost and manure instead of synthetic chemicals. Crop rotation is also used. Ultimately, with biodynamic wines, the production of wine is equivalent to the old-world wine-production standards we have established in our minds every time we take a sip of the pretty stuff.
Some wineries even go so far as to be certified by a standards organization called Demeter Association, Inc. More information about Demeter can be found by clicking here. (Note that the use of legumes are used to help with crop rotation. I am not sure if that poses a risk to peanut allergy sufferers). Their processing standards are available in pdf format and provide extremely detailed descriptions on what is allowed and what isn’t. The section that is specific to wine begins on page 38 (as of Jan 2014).
Biodynamic does not mean safe from food allergies, but it’s a start. Contact specific vintner for specific substances used. For example: Demeter Association encourages the use of bentonite (a vegan clay substance for binding during the fining process) but will allow organic egg products, some sulfites and some yeast products in the processing of their certified biodynamic wines. So, it depends on the individual producer what specific substances are used. Please call your specific vintner to ask.
As of January 2014, wine that is certified by Demeter may be safe for those with milk, fish and shellfish allergy (Always double check!), as Demeter prohibits the use of enzymes, tannin, casein, silica dioxide, isinglass, blood, gelatin, gum arabic, carbon, or copper sulfate.
2. If possible, find wine that is biodynamic AND vegan AND gluten-free if you want to avoid all of the top 8 food allergens.
This may be a challenge, but take a close look at some wines from these vintners:
– Frey Winery meets all three criteria. It is biodynamic (organic), vegan and gluten-free.
– Our Daily Red also meets all three criteria. Organic, vegan and gluten-free. Let this wine breathe for 30 minutes before drinking for optimal taste (we loved it!).
– Four Chimneys A producer of organic wines that do not use animal products in the fining process. It is unknown if these wines are gluten-free. Please call to check.
– Siduri indicates that their Sonoma County Pinot Noir 2012 is vegan and gluten-free. Not organic, biodynamic or sulfite-free, however.
3. The natural wine “experts” will laugh at you if you ask for gluten-free wine. Stump them with the questions below (for which they *should* know the answer!):
If you go into or call a wine store and ask them if they have gluten-free wines, they might laugh in your face and tell you that all wines are gluten-free. Hopefully your wine expert won’t be mean to you like the guy was to me. But I did experience this interaction – so fair warning to you. Just so you know though, if they tell you that all wines are gluten-free, kindly inform that person that they are incorrect. Use it as a teaching opportunity to let them know that some wines are still processed using hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate during finishing and that some barrels are still sealed with a flour paste that ends up in the wine. While it may not be enough to cause a reaction in many who avoid gluten, this does not mean those who are extremely sensitive won’t have a reaction.
Remember, the medical treatment for Celiac disease is to completely eliminate gluten out of the diet. Even without a strong reaction, consuming gluten can still damage villi in the intestines and block nutrient absorption. Wouldn’t it would be best, especially if one has Celiac disease, to avoid wine where flour and gluten was used in the processing and/or fining? As of right now, acquiring information about whether wine is made without gluten remains the biggest challenge.
Or, if you don’t want to go into all of that, you may get a better response if you ask the over-confidant wine expert these questions:
Question 1: “I’m looking for wine aged in stainless steel casks, can you tell me which ones?”
Question 2: “Which wines were aged in barrels sealed with a flour paste and which ones were aged in barrels sealed with wax?”
Question 3: “Do you know which of your wines were finished with hydrolyzed wheat gluten isolate?”
There now, if they can’t answer you, at least they have some homework to do where they can be more of an expert than they already are (because I guarantee you that it bugs them not to be able to answer specifics). If they ask you why, tell them that you are curious about how gluten finishing substances might affect the flavor of the wine and that you want to make a comparison at a dinner party with friends. They can’t argue with that!
4. Look for European wines that have begun labeling for food allergens. Last bit of good news: Some countries, beginning with 2012 wines, are required to label food allergens. These include Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Canada. Start looking for 2012 wines with these labels to help you decide which wines would be safe for you. (4)
All that said, please be safe, responsible, designate drivers and have a very happy new year!!!
1. Multi-allergen quantification of fining-related milk and egg proteins in white wines by high-resolution mass spectrometry. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry, Volume 27, Issue 17, 29 JUL 2013
2. Hidden allergens and additives in beer and wine by Drea Knufken, Living Without, Issue July/July 2008
3. Proteomics in Foods, Food Microbiology and Food Safety, Volume 2, 2013, pp 285-304
4. Allergen labeling in wine: compulsory regulations imminent in the European Union – will the U.S. be next? by Bruce E. Copeland, Alison B. Torbitt, Beverage Alcohol Brief, June 26, 2012
5. Influence of the matrix in bioavailability of flufenoxuron, lufenuron, pyriproxyfen and fenoxycard residues in grapes and wine, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Volume 60, October 2013, Pages 419-423
6. Fining white wine with plant proteins: effects of fining on proanthocyanidins and aroma components, European Food and Research Technology, October 2013