Luckily for those of us who love wine, there’s one out there for almost everyone. But if you have major food sensitivities, you may want to do a little extra research before popping that cork. Although grapes aren’t high on the list of foods that people can’t tolerate, there are some common allergens that a wine might come into contact with during the winemaking process.
Unlike beer, wine is generally considered safe for those who are allergic to gluten. But if you are ultrasensitive, you should be aware of two ways that wine can come into contact with it.
•Barrels: Some coopers use a flour-based paste to help fit the heads (the top and bottom) to the barrel. The barrel company Seguin Moreau, for example, uses one such paste. But once the heads are on, the barrel is sprayed with very hot water, and any remaining paste is essentially washed off.
•Fining Agents: Fining agents are added to clarify and stabilize wine, and some of them contain gluten. A fining agent binds with small particles, which then settle to the bottom. The clear wine is then drained off. But since the wine has come into contact with these fining agents, it may be possible to detect trace amounts.
Some wineries go the extra step to certify that their wines are gluten-free, but they might not mention that fact on their labels. So if gluten concerns you, don’t hesitate to call the customer service number of your favorite winery and ask.
Eggs and Milk
Believe it or not, eggs and milk – specifically egg whites and the milk protein casein – can actually play a vital role as fining agents. Egg whites are ideal for clarifying and stabilizing wine because they are very gentle and they bind to harsh, bitter tannins. Casein is used not only to clarify wines but also to remove brown colors from white wines. If you are highly allergic to eggs or milk, or if you are a vegan, knowing whether these agents were used can be important. When in doubt, check with the winery, or look for wines that are labeled as suitable for vegans.
You’ll notice that most wines sold in the United States carry labels with the phrase “Contains Sulfites.” This is required if the wine contains more than 10 mg/l of sulfur dioxide. While this might sound scary, it is important to remember that sulfur dioxide is a by-product of fermentation and that it is a safe and commonly used winemaking additive. It has also been used as a food preservative for centuries. But asthmatics may want to be careful. And as for that “red-wine headache from sulfites” theory, the topic is still being studied. Those headaches may stem from something else – not the sulfites.
Check with your doctor about the possibility of wine triggering your allergies. And if you have questions about a particular wine, don’t hesitate to call or email the winery.