Link Between Wine and Gluten
Have you ever found yourself asking the question, “Is wine gluten-free?” and felt a bit foolish for not knowing the answer? It’s likely that many of us have wondered whether a particular wine is gluten-free at some point.
Perhaps you have dietary restrictions, or maybe you’re simply curious about the gluten content in wine. It could be that you have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten, and you’re trying to determine if it’s safe to enjoy the wine in front of you.
You search for the ingredients listed on the wine bottle, but find nothing. It can be quite challenging to find the exact components of a product, especially when not all wine labels in the US are required to provide a comprehensive ingredient list.
So, let’s get to the bottom of it:
Is Wine Gluten-Free?
Yes, wine is generally considered gluten-free. It is made from naturally gluten-free ingredients. However, wine cannot be guaranteed to be 100% gluten-free. Some aspects of the winemaking process may introduce small traces of gluten into the final product.
Gluten seems to be in about everything, but what exactly is it? Let’s do some digging.
What is Gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat and grain and also comes from things like rye and barley. It acts like glue in foods and helps make things stick together. A pizza dough, for example, is loose and stretchy because it contains gluten. Without it, it would easily fall apart. Gluten is what keeps it and so many other foods together. (1)
Gluten and Sensitivities
Gluten isn’t a bad thing and can act as a prebiotic in the body, meaning it feeds the good bacteria in the body. Unless you have gluten sensitivity, gluten isn’t bad or harmful to you at all. Those who are sensitive to gluten, however, might experience problems when eating foods that contain it.
Everyone reacts differently to food and everyday ingredients, as our bodies are different. Some people do not react at all when eating food that contains gluten, and others experience adverse side effects.
Celiac Disease and Severe Reactions
For a gluten-sensitive individual, when they consume something that has gluten in it, their body sees it as a toxin to get rid of and acts accordingly to try to eliminate it from the body which can distress the body.
This creates a war zone in the body and can result in moderate effects such as inflammation, bloating, diarrhea, and fatigue, to more severe effects such as intestinal damage, abdominal pain, and extreme weight loss, which are all symptoms of Celiac disease.
Celiac disease is a condition where the body starts attacking itself after someone ingests food with gluten because of a gluten intolerance they have. Those who have Celiac disease are recommended to stay away from gluten completely and only consume gluten-free food and drinks.(2)
In rare cases, gluten-sensitive individuals can have a condition called gluten ataxia, which is a rare and uncommon neurological brain disorder that causes your body to attack your brain in response to gluten.
Navigating a Gluten-Free Lifestyle: Challenges and Considerations
When dealing with gluten intolerances and sensitivities, people are advised to stick to gluten-free diets, however following a strict gluten-free diet can be challenging, as a lot of the everyday foods we enjoy and consume contain significant amounts of gluten.
Somebody who has Celiac disease or otherwise decides to be gluten-free always needs to check the ingredient label of a product when they’re shopping in the grocery store, and they also need to read the back of a wine label.
How Wine is Made
Wine is made from grapes and fruits like plums or berries, which are all naturally gluten-free and is typically produced in 3 different methods.
Grape Crushing and Juice Extraction
When it comes to wine made from grapes, the process begins with the grapes being crushed, which causes juice to be released, which is then used to make wine.
In red wines, the skins aren’t separated during the crushing and juicing process, however, in white wines, the grapes are usually skinned first.
Grape Juice Clarification
When making white wine, the grape juice is clarified using sedimentation which is a process that forces the particles to separate and settle out. Wine can also be clarified using centrifugation, a process where particles are spun at a high speed to separate molecules.
The point of clarification is to remove the insoluble matter from the wine, matter that cannot dissolve but is still present in the juice. After the juice is clarified, yeast is then added to start the process of fermentation.
Fermentation is the process by which yeasts convert the sugars in the juice into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The fermentation can last anywhere from days to months to even years.
It’s one of the most important processes in wine making and it’s essentially what turns the grapes into actual wine. This is also typically the longest part when making wine.
Storage and Aging
After the fermentation process is complete, wine is racked off for storage, and is usually kept in stainless steel containers or oak barrels. During this time, the wines can also be filtered further or blended.
Different enzymes can also be added to the wine to clarify it further and the storage can help it to mature more which can enhance the flavor. Finally, the wine is bottled and made available to the general public after an appropriate aging period.
How Gluten Gets Into Wine
Although the ingredients used in wine production are naturally gluten-free, there is a potential for gluten to be introduced into the wine through cross-contamination during processing and storage.
Cross-contamination occurs when bacteria or food particles inadvertently transfer from one substance to another, often resulting in harm. Wine is particularly susceptible to cross-contamination.
Traditionally, wine was aged and stored in various types of containers, including oak barrels. In the past, it was common to seal the tops of oak barrels with wheat paste, which contains gluten.
This is where the risk of cross-contamination arises.
The presence of wheat paste could lead to traces of gluten entering the wine. However, fewer wineries today use wheat paste to seal their oak barrels. Instead, many opt for naturally gluten-free alternatives like paraffin wax.
Stainless steel barrels, on the other hand, require no sealant, making them free from gluten sources and posing no risk of cross-contamination. Nevertheless, some older wineries may still employ wheat paste for barrel sealing, and wines that have been aged for an extended period might have been stored in such barrels, making them not gluten-free.
Studies measuring gluten concentrations in wines aged in oak barrels sealed with wheat paste revealed levels below 10 ppm (parts per million), equivalent to approximately 0.001%.
While the risk of significant contamination is minimal, individuals with a high sensitivity to gluten may still experience adverse reactions to small amounts of gluten present in certain wines.
So, while we generally consider wine gluten-free, it cannot be classified as entirely gluten-free due to the potential for cross-contamination.
Advice For Gluten-Sensitive Individuals
If you’re someone who is moderately to severely sensitive to gluten, don’t worry, you can still enjoy your favorite foods and beverages, and most importantly, gluten-free wine.
You just need to take an extra level of care and concern into mind before indulging so that you don’t score yourself a surprise visit to the hospital. (3)
Individual Choices for Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
If you have non-celiac gluten sensitivity, it’s up to you whether or not it’s worth it to indulge in food and wine that are not gluten-free.
For those that experience severe effects from gluten consumption and those who have celiac disease, it’s generally recommended to avoid gluten completely.
Checking Wine Labels and Inquiring About Winemaking
Make sure to stay away from wines that mention having gluten on the label, when you’re shopping at your local winery. Most of the time you might not know if it’s in the wine or not, as wine is generally considered gluten-free, however, it doesn’t hurt to ask how the wines were made to see whether there was any cross-contamination involved.
Speaking up about your food intolerance can feel inconvenient, but safety should always come first. When it comes to gluten intolerance, whether you’re visiting a winery, joining a wine club, or simply enjoying wine anytime, always ask about the winemaking process, ingredients, and how the barrels are sealed.
These small actions can have a significant impact, not only for those with gluten intolerance but also for others with allergies. Safety matters more than comfort, so don’t hesitate to speak up and stay informed.
The last thing you want to do is keep quiet about your gluten intolerance and face extreme reactions when consuming foods and beverages. Avoid other alcoholic beverages as well where there is gluten cross-contamination involved.
Wine Coolers and Gluten Contamination
You might also want to stay away from some wine coolers, as they have been shown to contain trace amounts of gluten due to barley malt, however, be mindful that not all wine coolers have gluten because not all wine coolers are created using the same products and processes.
It all depends on the way the wine coolers were produced, and every wine company makes them differently.
Navigating the Wine World and Reading Labels
Most wine is gluten-free but not all wine is gluten-free, so just be careful out there in the wine world and make sure to read all the little labels on the back of the bottle.
Search for good quality, while also searching for something gluten-free, or natural wine that’s free from gluten contamination.
So, let’s settle the score: Is wine gluten-free? Well, for the most part, the answer is yes. But there’s a small twist. You’ve gotta keep your eyes peeled for potential cross-contamination that could make your beloved wine not-so-gluten-free. Gluten is a sneaky little thing, isn’t it?
That’s why you need to exercise some caution. Read those wine labels and don’t hesitate to ask questions if something’s unclear. It’s all about being in the know and making sure your wine is truly gluten-free.
Armed with your newfound knowledge, grab a glass of a delightful gluten-free wine and kick back. Enjoy each sip without worry. Cheers to a stress-free and gluten-free wine experience!
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