Some people say that drinking a glass or two of wine leaves them feeling kind of yucky. Well, here’s an interesting theory on what their problem might be…
Millions of people are allergic to eggs, milk or fish, yet few of them probably realize that many wines contain trace amounts of egg albumen, dairy proteins or even bits of fish! So when these people sip their favorite varietals, they’re inadvertently downing what basically amounts to a liquid version of a tiny bit of omelet, yogurt or filet of fish.
What this means is that, for people with these common food allergies, drinking wine theoretically could trigger uncomfortable and annoying symptoms…or, in rare extreme cases, possibly bring on a life-threatening reaction.
And even if you’re not allergic, if you are a vegan who avoids animal-derived foods on principal, you may be appalled to learn that your fruit-of-the-vine beverage contains those unwanted animal proteins.
THE NOT-SO-FINE EFFECTS OF “FINING”
How could eggs, milk or fish bits possibly wind up in wine? Blame it on fining, the commonplace winemaking process of introducing a small amount of protein into wine to attract any sediment or loose particles (grape skins, stems) and send them to the bottom of a barrel. For fining, winemakers often use sturgeon bladder, egg white albumen or milk proteins.
When the wine is bottled, traces of these proteins may remain. Now, no studies have shown that these proteins cause serious problems when allergy sufferers consume the wine. But in theory, these trace amounts could be enough to cause symptoms in people who are allergic them, said Clifford W. Bassett, MD, director of Allergy & Asthma Care of New York and a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
What kinds of symptoms are we talking about? Again, no one knows for sure. But typical food allergy symptoms range from mild nasal stuffiness, hives and/or itchiness…to throat tightness and trouble swallowing…to potentially life-threatening breathing problems.
If you want to play it safe and you have a known severe allergy to eggs, milk or fish, vegan wines may be your best bet. To achieve their vegan status, these wines generally omit the animal protein component and instead use a nontoxic clay for fining. They are available from dozens of wineries around the world and span a wide range of quality and price—so there’s a good chance that, if you are a wine drinker, some of your favorites are already vegan.
But buyer beware: Not all wines that are labeled as vegan are guaranteed 100% free of milk, fish or eggs. How can that be? Since the fining agent is supposed to fall to the bottom of the cask and, at least in theory, be left behind, winemakers technically can claim that there is no animal product in the bottled wine even though an animal product was used to make it.
This means that you’ll have to do some research to find truly vegan wines. A good place to start is with a vegan-friendly online community such as Barnivore.com, which can help steer you toward vegan wines. Or if you want to find out for sure about a particular wine, contact the vineyard to ask about its fining process.
Widely distributed wineries that guarantee that all of their wines contain no dairy, egg or fish ingredients include Girasole Vineyards…Frey Vineyards…and Four Chimneys Organic Wines. Check Web sites to find distributors near you or to order online if your state permits wine to be shipped.