Is Wine Gluten Free?
Anish Patel @ 2022-01-13 07:17:30 -0800
Wine labels can be confusing. Each country has its own laws around what must be on the label, and most of the time it has nothing to do with ingredients. Without doing our own research, we don’t know what is (or isn’t) in our wine—other than grapes, of course.
Still, there are some ingredients we absolutely need to be aware of before we consume a food or beverage product, and gluten is one of them.
The good news is this: wine is naturally gluten-free. If you’re giving up gluten for personal dietary reasons, you can rest knowing that all of the wine in the wine aisle is safe for you to drink. However, there are some instances in which your wine can end up containing trace amounts of gluten. This won’t affect the average person, but if you have Celiac disease or are extremely intolerant to gluten, this can be bad for your health.
If you’re gluten intolerant, don’t fret! There are still plenty of wines out there that are 100% gluten-free. All you have to do is find it. This guide is designed to help you determine whether your wine is completely gluten-free.
When is a product considered gluten-free?
By law, a food or beverage is certified gluten-free when it contains 20ppm (parts per million) or less of gluten. Food and beverage products that meet this maximum can label their wine “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten,” or without gluten.” Most countries agree on this standard.
Alcoholic beverages, including all distilled spirits, wines with 7% alcohol content or more, and beverages like beer that are made with malted barley and hops are regulated by the FDA.
However, most wine won’t say “gluten-free” on the label because all wine meets these standards.
The majority of people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity won’t experience symptoms from products that have less than 20ppm. Of course, this doesn’t apply to everyone. If you’re one of those people who has a reaction even to products labeled “gluten-free,” then this article will help you narrow down which wines you should avoid.
When is wine not gluten-free?
Gluten is a mix of naturally occurring proteins in wheat, rye, and barley. While some yeast does contain gluten, like brewers yeast, the yeast used in winemaking is gluten-free.
Wine is made from crushed and pressed grapes. Yeast, which is naturally occurring on the grapes, initiates fermentation by converting the sugar in the grapes into alcohol. Sometimes winemakers add lab-grown yeast to maintain better control of the process. This wine is gluten-free, too for the most part.
Once the yeast does its job, it dies (happily, we promise) and settles to the bottom of the vessel. Sometimes the yeast is completely removed. Other times, it is left to add body and complexity to the wine.
Wines that are made in this way are gluten-free. However, some products, like wine coolers, have added ingredients that contain gluten. Producers aren’t required by law to disclose this on the label. However, more and more producers that are aware of gluten sensitivity are making gluten-free products and repping it on the label.
Some conventional wines are made with added colors and flavors, and these ingredients sometimes include gluten. The best way to avoid running into this is to buy wine that is made by natural winemakers and small producers, who avoid additives at all costs and allow native yeasts to do all the work.
Fining agents can leave trace amounts of gluten in your wine.
If a winemaker uses a fining agent that contains gluten, trace amounts will be left in the wine. For extremely gluten-sensitive people, this can cause an allergic reaction.
Fining is the process of clearing particulate matter out of the wine after fermentation is complete. The fermentation process makes the wine quite cloudy. This isn’t desirable to most consumers, so most winemakers fine and filter their wine to clear it up before bottling it.
To clarify the wine, a fining agent is added to bond with the solids and drop to the bottom. Then, the clean wine is racked off.
However, the trend towards natural wines is making this aesthetic more widely acceptable. If you’d like to avoid wines that use fining agents, you can’t miss a bottle of cloudy wine in the store. These wines tend to be sealed with a crown cap rather than the cork.
The most common fining agents used today are all gluten-free: bentonite clay, egg whites, and fish bladder. However, gluten itself can be used as a fining agent. This is permitted by law and doesn’t have to be disclosed on the label, but it’s very uncommon.
If gluten is used, trace amounts that are left do fall under the legal limit (20ppm), but this can still be harmful to people with celiac disease or extreme gluten intolerance.
Some oak-aged wines contain trace amounts of gluten.
Some oak barrels used for aging and fermentation are sealed with wheat paste, which contains gluten. Not all oak barrels contain wheat paste, and if trace amounts are left, the levels fall under 10ppm.
Barrel aging is a common winemaking practice that allows for two things. First, it allows the wine to interact with oxygen in a slow and controlled way, which develops the existing flavors of the wine. Second, the oak imparts its own interesting flavors on the wine like charred wood, coconut, chocolate, smoke, and spice.
Not all barrels are sealed with wheat paste, and not all wine is made with oak. In fact, plenty of wine is fermented and aged in either concrete, clay, or stainless steel tanks.
Oftentimes, you can visit the producer’s website and find the product descriptions, also known as tech sheets, for your exact bottle of wine. If the winemaker has chosen to provide this information, they’ll disclose whether they fermented in oak or another vessel. They may even list the fining agent.
If the producer is a small operation, you can contact them and ask them about any missing information on their websites. Small producers care about letting their consumers know every detail so that they can make smart choices, and they’ll likely add that information to their website.
Which types of wine are not oak-aged?
There are some styles of wine that are never oak-aged, and there are some wine regions that are known for opting to use stainless steel vats for fermentation. While we can’t make any promises on behalf of the winemakers of this region, it can be helpful to know about them. Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that a bottle of wine from this list is completely gluten-free.
Chablis is known for saying no to oak aging, although there are a few producers who do still use oak. Chablis is Chardonnay from a very cold region in eastern France, and it tastes nothing like Californian Chardonnay. The wine is traditionally aged in stainless steel and pairs perfectly with oysters.
The white wines of Alsace typically don’t see any oak, either. Instead, they’re aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve their aromatics. Riesling and Gewurztraminer are two varietals that are almost never oaked, no matter where they’re made. Wine from the Loire Valley typically ferments in stainless steel, as do many Italian whites and Austrian wines.
Wines that are more likely to be aged in oak include New World wines from The United States, Argentina, and most reds like Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Merlot, Malbec, and Pinot Noir.
But remember, not all oak is sealed with wheat paste, and even when it does, the levels are very low.
Many natural winemakers are aware of their consumers’ many food sensitivities. They’re shaping their winemaking choices around accessibility, and you can check the website of producers or contact them directly. If you don’t get a response, you have your answer. But if you do, you’ve found a company that cares about the nuances of not just their wine, but their market.
If you’re having trouble identifying which bottles are completely gluten-free and which aren’t, go to your local shop and have a chat with the staff. There’s a good chance you aren’t the first gluten-free person looking for solutions.
Plus, your local shops prioritize small producers and natural wine, so there’s a good chance they’ll have what you want there in the store. And the people working there have all the details on the wine they sell, so if you can’t find information on the Internet, they may have exactly what you need.
And if you’re looking for a gluten-free wine spritzer that you can drink worry-free, try our Tinto de Verano, a lightly sparkling, 100% gluten-free red wine cocktail with lemon.