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Wine Allergy: Is Wine Gluten Free?

Joshua Weatherwax
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Allergies are no fun. A wine allergy is even worse.

You get together with some friends, enjoy a glass or two of wine, but end up feeling terrible. What happened? If you feel tired or itchy, or have sinus pressure, you might be suffering from a wine allergy. Some people may even have more dangerous symptoms that put them in the hospital. Wine allergies are not dissimilar to food allergies and should be taken seriously.

If you're concerned you are allergic to wine read on to learn about the different types of wine allergies. We'll also cover gluten allergies and sensitivities.

Wine Allergy Symptoms and Causes

Wine sensitivities are fairly common, but true wine allergies are rare. Sufferers' symptoms can range from mild sensitivities to dangerous. Nasal congestion, headaches, and more may plague you after drinking a glass of wine. Pay attention to how you feel after drinking a particular wine varietal.

Drinking wine may not always cause a reaction, as winemakers create their wines in different ways. You could drink wine for years and not discover an allergy until you have a particular wine. The level of risk involved depends on the intensity of the person's allergies and what particular compound in wine they are allergic to.

Here are the most common forms of wine allergies and their symptoms.

Red Wine Allergy

People who suffer from wine allergies are more likely to have reactions to red wines than white wines. One issue may be an allergy to alcohol itself. Red wines have a higher wine alcohol content than white wines. A person with this allergy may not experience symptoms when drinking a white wine.

Another cause could be the presence of high levels of histamine. Histamine is a chemical that naturally occurs in the body and in various foods and drinks. Allergy sufferers have an intolerance to histamine that can cause a range of symptoms from itchy skin to shortness of breath and more. Red wine has a higher concentration of histamine than other alcoholic beverages. Red wine is also notorious for it's stains, so make sure you have a wine stain remover if you aren't allergic.

Red Wine Allergy Symptoms

Red wine allergy symptoms  may vary from person-to-person, but common symptoms include itchiness, hives, headaches, flushed or swelling skin, or even breathing problems. The severity of these symptoms can range from mild inconveniences to dangerous breathing problems. If you think you may be allergic, stop drinking wine and consult your doctor.

Sulfite Allergy Wine

People with sulfite allergies or sulfite sensitivity can have adverse reactions to drinking wine and beer. Sulfites are chemical compounds that are commonly used as preservatives. Winemakers and beer brewers often add sulfites to inhibit yeast growth and achieve their goal fermentation. Sulfite allergies can present differently than other wine allergies and be more serious. Sulfite allergies can induce asthma attacks, so consult a doctor before drinking wine if you believe you may have one.

White Wine Allergy

White wine allergies are less common than red wine allergies, but may cause harsher allergic reactions. You may be allergic to both types of wine, or just white wines depending on what compound in wine you’re allergic to. White wines have lower levels of histamine than red wines, so you’re likely to be allergic to both if this is what sets off your allergies. Sulfite levels are much higher in white wines, so you may not have an issue drinking red wines. Sulfite allergies are dangerous, too, and can cause breathing issues and asthma attacks.

The differences between compounds in red and white wines are related to the way wines are fermented. You can learn more about the fermentation process and how red wine and white wines differ by picking up a book about wine.

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Does Wine Have Gluten?

No, wine is gluten-free, barring a few special instances. Gluten is a protein found in various types of grains and cereals, with wheat being the most common. Wine is not made using any of these, so it is inherently gluten-free. However, cross-contamination is a possible cause of gluten in wine. Cooking wine may have gluten as an added compound, so consider reading the label.

Wineries have two steps that may cause drinking wine to come in contact with gluten. First, aging wine in barrels may be a culprit if the winery uses flour paste to seal the barrel. Second, the fining agent used to clarify the wine may be wheat-based. It is unlikely that either of these adds much gluten to the wine. Federal law requires less than 20 parts per million (ppm) gluten in a food for it to be classified as "gluten free," and few wines pass that number.

Is Red Wine Gluten Free?

Yes, red wine is gluten free. Since red wine is made of antioxidant-rich grapes and their grape skin, it is gluten free. Red wine is also the most beneficial type of wine. It has myriad health benefits and has a low number of calories in wine. There is also a high amount of acid in red wine. If you get a headache from drinking those reds rich in dark tannins, it may be the lactic acid at fault.

The only type of red wine that may contain traces of gluten are wines with added flavoring or color. These are less common but usually come in the form of cheaper, red dessert wines. Drinking red wines that are not sweet is one way to avoid any wine that may have gluten. Choosing well-known brands or wine made from locally-grown grapes is another.

Is White Wine Gluten Free?

Yes, white wine is gluten free. White wines are less likely than reds to surpass the 20ppm limit on gluten. This is because far fewer vintners add coloring or flavors to white wines. White wines are also fermented without skin, so they develop differently and are less likely to cause headaches.

White wines have their drawbacks, though. Not only is there more sugar in wine, white wine also doesn’t have the same health benefits as red wine.

Is All Wine Gluten Free?

In the broadest of terms, yes wine is gluten free, though there are a few exceptions to this, such as cross-contamination. If you have a gluten sensitivity, it's always good to check with your doctor first. You can also reach out directly to the winemaker as wine bottles rarely contain health information on the label.

One caveat to this gluten-free rule is the wine cooler. Wine coolers are very likely to contain gluten because they aren't actually wine. Contrary to common belief, there is no wine in most wine coolers. Most wine coolers are made using malt liquor and fruit juices. This is done to avoid a larger tax that is levied on wine than other alcohols. Malt is made from barley, which is a gluten-containing grain. Avoid wine coolers if you are at all sensitive to gluten.

Wine Allergies Aren't Fun

Wine allergies and sensitivities can put a damper on your ability to enjoy wine. If you have any questions regarding wine allergies, speak to your doctor. You don't want to find out you have a wine allergy in the wrong place at the wrong time. If you run a bar or restaurant you should make sure to add an allergy warning to your wine list to avoid any confusion. Luckily, customers can bring their own wine to many restaurants to avoid the issue as long as they pay a small corkage fee.

Now, if you don't have allergies or have them under control, get out there and enjoy some wine. Maybe pick up a whole case of wine now that you know it's safe to drink or a grab a new electric wine opener or wine pourer to avoid any nasty spills. You should also grab the best wine decanter so you can get the most flavor out of your wine.