Can You Be Allergic to Wine?
Bridget Reed @ 2022-02-14 05:53:39 -0800
If you’ve ever felt less than great after having a glass of wine, you may be wondering if you’re having an allergic reaction. It can be hard to tell whether you’re having a reaction to wine, alcohol, or if you just haven’t had enough water that day. Many unpleasant symptoms that come with a hangover are a result of dehydration or not eating a good meal with your wine. So first things first: make sure you’re drinking plenty of water and eating before you pull out the corkscrew.
However, if you’re doing all the right things but still feeling crappy after a glass or two, you might be a part of the small percentage of people who are allergic to wine. But don’t worry, there’s still hope for you. Wine isn’t an allergy in itself, but there are a number of chemical compounds or ingredients that cause an allergic reaction to some people. If you can figure out what it is, you may be able to avoid it by avoiding one type of wine.
Common Allergens Found in Wine
Let’s look at the different allergens in wine and how to work around them.
Sulfites are the most commonly known allergens found in wine. Sulfite allergies are rare, but they still occur in less than 1% of the population. Sulfite allergies are usually detected before you become old enough to drink wine. This is because sulfites are found in many food products; they act as a preservative.
A glass of wine has up to 350 ppm of sulfites in it. A box of raisins, on the other hand, contains anywhere from 500-2000 ppm. Other dried fruits like apricots as well as deli meat, canned fruits, and vegetables also have high levels of sulfites in them. If you have no problem with these, you can rule out sulfites.
If you are allergic or even just sensitive to sulfites, you can find wine with zero or low added sulfites. In the US, any bottle of wine that contains over 10 ppm of sulfites must put “contains sulfites” on the label. So look for wine that doesn’t have this label if you’re sensitive. If you’re allergic to sulfites and even these wines cause a reaction, there are two things to remember.
One, sulfites occur naturally on the grape. So no wine is truly sulfite-free, but you can find wines with limited to 0 added sulfites. Look for natural wines and certified organic wines from the US. Wine that is certified organic is not permitted any amount of added sulfites. Some natural winemakers will also disclose how many parts of SO2 they have added.
If the wine is from the EU, the regulations are a bit different, and there may be added sulfites in the bottle. However, there are many natural winemakers from the EU that don’t add any SO2 to their wine, and your local shop owner will know which ones to point you towards.
There’s some very interesting research being done on histamines in wine. Some research suggests that histamine levels, a byproduct of fermentation and aging wine, are a more likely culprit of your wine headaches.
HIstamines are biogenic amines, and they occur at higher rates in wines that haven’t added any SO2. Histamine levels are lowest in wines that have introduced SO2 before fermentation begins. Many wine drinkers who have found that they’re sensitive to biogenic amines present in wine have also found that they can reduce headaches or nasal congestion by taking an antihistamine.
If you have a histamine intolerance, keep in mind that levels are lower in white wines than they are in red wines. They’re also lowest in fruity varietals like Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc.
If you’re allergic to histamines, you will also find that you have a reaction to aged cheese and fish. Both of these products contain 10x as many histamines as wine.
Fish and Animal Products
There are three animal products that some winemakers use to clarify the wine before it’s bottled. These are fish bladder, milk, and egg protein. All three of these products are used as fining agents: they’re added to the wine to bond with particulate matter, then they’re filtered out. This produces a wine that is clear and free of suspended particles.
However, these products aren’t necessary to the filtration process. Natural and organic winemakers tend to use vegan options to filter their wine like bentonite clay. Others opt to skip fining or filtering their wine at all, producing a hazy wine that is perfectly safe to drink.
If you’re allergic to fish, milk, or eggs, look for natural wines. Natural winemakers often state on their website whether the wine has been fined or filtered and, if it has, what they used.
Grape allergies are very, very rare, but they do happen. This one is easy to rule out: if you can eat grapes with no problem, then you’re good. But if you do find that you’re allergic to grapes, you’re going to have to find a new alcoholic beverage to sip on.
The culprit of the grape allergy is called LTP, or Lipid Transfer Proteins. LTPs are found on the skins of grapes. So if you’re experiencing an intolerance and not an allergy, you might find that white wine, which doesn’t contain the skins of the grapes, may be your new best friend.
Interestingly, LTP reactions can be exacerbated by high levels of stress, eating food while drinking wine, or having exercised, taken aspirin, or ibuprofen within an hour or two of drinking wine.
Signs You May Be Allergic to Wine
A very small percentage of wine allergies are seriously dangerous. Most of them are mild and easy to confuse with other symptoms. However, the severity of a sulfite reaction, especially in people that are asthmatic, is the reason that the law mandates labeling this ingredient. Hopefully, in the future, other allergens like histamines and animal products will also be disclosed.
Here are the most common mild symptoms that may suggest a wine intolerance but not necessarily an allergy.
- Flushed skin
- Nasal congestion
- Stomach ache
- Increased heart rate
Here are more severe symptoms that suggest a wine allergy. If you experience these symptoms, you should stop drinking wine immediately and seek medical attention.
- Shortness of breath
- Tightness in the chest
- A hoarse voice
- Swelling of the lips, mouth, or throat
- Faintness or collapse
One study conducted in Germany found that women were actually more likely to be intolerant of wine than men. More research is needed, but it does suggest that if you’re experiencing these symptoms and you’re a woman, you may be sensitive to something in your wine.
Does Wine Contain Gluten?
You’ll be relieved to know that the yeast used to make wine is gluten-free. Phew! However, for people with severe gluten intolerance or celiac disease, there is a chance that your wine could end up with trace amounts of gluten in it.
Wine is naturally gluten-free, but conventional wines more than often have additives in them that contain gluten. Commercial winemakers add flavors and colors, sometimes even Mega Purple, to their wine. And some wine producers use gluten as a fining agent, although this method is going out of style due to consumer demand for gluten-free products. You can avoid this by avoiding conventional wine altogether.
It’s easy: don’t shop at the major retailers that carry conventional wine. Instead, visit local wine shops and talk to the owners about what kinds of producers they carry. They will have intimate knowledge about what kind of wine they carry, and if you have a gluten sensitivity, they can steer you toward natural and certified organic wine.
What To Do if You Have a Reaction to Wine
If you’re experiencing a severe reaction, stop drinking immediately and seek medical attention. The most severe wine allergies cause anaphylaxis, and this can be life-threatening.
But if your symptoms are just inconvenient and bothersome, but you can still get away with raising a glass on special occasions, you may want to try some new approaches to drinking wine.
Red wine is the most common type of wine to cause a reaction. This is because red wines are fermented with the grape skins. But in white wine, the skins are removed before fermentation. So try white wine or even sparkling wine if you haven’t.
If you shop exclusively at your grocery store, it’s time to venture to your mom-and-pop shop. Try drinking organic wine, wine made with organic grapes, and try natural wine. If you only drink wine from the US, try drinking wine from Europe and vice versa.
But if all wines are still giving you a reaction, try laying off the wine and switching to another kind of alcoholic beverage. Keep in mind that beer is not gluten-free when you do this! If your symptoms subside and you find an alcoholic drink that doesn’t give you trouble, chances are you’re allergic to wine. But if symptoms persist, you might be allergic to alcohol in general.
Some of the symptoms of a general alcohol allergy are the same as the symptoms of a wine allergy, like flushed skin.
Listen To What Your Body Tells You
Luckily, the tides are changing around how we view allergies, food, and drink products. As the wine industry responds to allergies and dietary restrictions that promote sustainable farming, we’re more likely to find wine that we can drink safely. Sulfites are an excellent example of this. Even though a small percentage of the population is allergic to them, education has led to new labeling laws that allow us to make choices when we shop for wine. The more we know, the better off we are.
Are you looking for a low sulfite wines that are transparent about their winemaking? Try our Natural Wines, crafted with no-synthetics and the first winery to ever publish Allergen Lab's in the U.S.