I am often asked “Is wine gluten free?” Consumers have questions about the wines they drink and want to be reassured they won’t get a reaction. Wine is naturally gluten free but gluten can be found in some wines. Reading a wine label won’t tell you anything about the two possible sources.
Gluten in wine can potentially come from fining. A winemaker will fine for various reasons. When a wine is fined after fermentation, it is usually to polish a wine and remove proteins and other suspended particles found in a wine. A substance called a fining agent is added which bonds to particles and causes the them to drop to the bottom. The wine is then siphoned off. The majority of wines are fined but that is a topic for another day. Today I want to focus on what can remain in a wine after fining.
Fining agents can be organic, inorganic, or synthetic substances. The most common fining agents are egg whites, casein derived from milk, gelatin, and isinglass obtained from fish bladders. Some wine makers use Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten Isolate. Many fining agents are derived from common allergens.
Scientists at Health Canada state that “the use of allergen-derived fining agents does not normally result in any appreciable amount of protein from allergens remaining in the wine, particularly when usual manufacturing practices such as filtration steps are employed.” Not all wines are filtered and it is rare that a wine label would tell you this. You would need to ask.
When it comes to labelling wines that have used allergen derived fining agents, declaration on a label is only required if the level of allergen remaining from fining is 10 ppm or more. Such a wine would be labeled as having used a fining agent sourced from a common allergen. If the level remaining is below 10 ppm the wine maker does not need to declare what was used for fining. In other words, there could be an allergen based fining agent, such as gluten, remain in a wine you wouldn’t know.
A second source for gluten in a wine can come from oak barrels used for aging a wine. Some oak barrels have had a wheat paste used to seal the barrel heads to the staves. Not all coopers use a wheat paste and most barrels are washed with hot water before use. Tests have shown that any gluten remaining in a wine would be less than 20 ppm.
I look for wines made with little or no intervention and only deal with wine makers that are transparent about the grape growing and their wine making. Some of the wines I represent are not filtered. Some are unfined. I always ask about the fining agents used and I do not import wines that use Hydrolized Wheat Gluten Isolate.
If you want to play it safe and avoid gluten or allergens in your wine:
- Ask if a wine was fined and what the fining agent is derived from
- Stick to wines that have been stored or aged in stainless steel, cement, or plastic
- Avoid oaked wines. Oak influences on a wine isn’t necessarily from barrels which will be another topic for another day
Most of the wines I represent are ordered in by the case through the LCBO Private Ordering Department. Contact me for more details.
If you are interested in trying a gluten free wine you can try one of my wines from Di Giovanna in Sicily. It will be available for a limited time at select LCBO Vintages starting on August 2, 2014.
Di Giovanna Grillo is a very aromatic and flavourful white wine that is native to the fertile lands of Sicily. It is also certified organic to the USDA NOP standard with only 16 mg/L of free sulphur. Most people that tried this wine last year really enjoyed it, even the red wine drinking crowd.
Di Giovanna Grillo 2011 IGP Sicilia (100% Grillo) – Amazing floral notes evoking white and yellow flowers, nectarine, apricot, and grapefruit zest. The palate is sunny, bright and balanced. Lots of zing provided by a citrus-rind note that creates a very fresh finish. This will work as a sipper, but will impress with seafood or light olio pastas. (Vintages panel, June 2013)
Sku # 343053 (XD) 750 ml Price $15.95