THE QUESTION: I am allergic to gluten and recently have found out that gluten wheat protein may be used for wine clarification. Another issue for gluten-sensitive individuals is sulphite presence in red wine. Are there any reds that I can drink?
THE ANSWER: It's a little-known fact. Some wines are clarified with gluten.
In a process known as fining, certain clarifying agents are used to force solid particles to clump together, making them easier to remove. Egg, clay, milk and even fish derivatives are part of the fining-agent arsenal. So is wheat gluten. In most cases, the minuscule residue, if in fact there is any, should not pose a problem to the vast majority of people who are sensitive to these products. Fining agents are designed to precipitate out of the wine. There's currently no way to tell in Canada which fining agents were used. However, new Health Canada rules will come into effect in August, 2012, forcing producers to label wines accordingly in cases where fining agents remain in the wine.
Fining aside, in some cases wheat gluten is used to help seal wooden casks or barrels used to age the wine. In theory, this could leach into the wine.
People who suffer from celiac disease, a disorder that renders them intolerant to gluten, are forced to keep vigilant track of wines they suspect may cause them harm. There's no definitive way to tell aside from contacting individual producers.
As for sulphur, wine can be problematic for people with severe sulphur allergies. All wines contain at least trace amounts because sulphites are natural byproducts of fermentation. Sulphur dioxide also is added to wine as an antioxidant, which curbs spoiling. Though, again, the levels tend to be low enough to be safe for the vast majority of people. Generally, red wines contain lower sulphite content than whites because reds tend to contain more natural antioxidants, which prevent it from spoiling.
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