I was at an event pouring wine and had someone come up and ask me to recommend a gluten-free wine. My answer was a cheeky, "Practically all wines would fit the bill".
The confusion around gluten-free wines stems from how the term is used in wine marketing. Some wineries have put the phrase 'Gluten Free' on their labels and technical sheets to appear as an added bonus to drinking their wine. The truth is that most wines are made without gluten proteins. Some continue to argue, however, that the winemaking process used to clarify wines (fining) and the ageing of wine could add gluten to a wines finished product.
In this post, I look at fining and ageing and show why celiac wine lovers have nothing to worry about.
Fining Agents and Gluten
Grapes, the star of the winemaking show, are naturally devoid of gluten proteins. However, it is said that the fining agents used to clarify a wine could add gluten to it. Lucky for celiac wine lovers, the industry's most commonly used fining agents are devoid of gluten.
The recommended fining agents for best use and international standards are the following, and they do not contain gluten:
For White Wine
Isinglass (less common)
Isinglass is a substance derived from the swim bladders of certain fish
For Red Wine
While gluten can be used as a fining agent itself, labelling regulations would make using it brand sabotage, and here's why.
Under the Act, FDA 2011 allergen labelling provisions meant that alcoholic beverages had to use a 'Contains' statement to identify any common food allergens present, and that included gluten. You see, the rise of the gluten-free movement got its legs when, in 2010, the medical community started to use terms such as 'gluten-related disorders' when speaking about the allergy. Correct, gluten intolerance was finally being referred to as a disorder.
By 2011, gluten sensitivities were recognized and legitimized, and no sound wine producer wanted an item on their label that was associated with a 'disorder'. Hence, the recommended list of fining agents houses nothing that contains gluten.
Barrel Ageing and Gluten
Barrels are often used in fermentation and in the ageing process of wine. In fact, some red wines can see over three years of ageing in a barrel!
Barrel aging has several uses in winemaking, such as imparting flavour, adding tannin, adding to the bouquet of the wine, and more. Where the gluten-mindful have a problem is with how some barrels are crafted.
Some cooperages, very few, use wheat or flour paste to seal the tops of barrels. Today, however, most cooperages use tallow or paraffin wax as a sealant, and both are devoid of gluten.
It is safe to say that almost all wines you consume are gluten-free. If you see a wine brand use the term 'gluten-free' in their marketing, recognize it as just that: marketing. It is not an indication that the other wines on the shelf are riddled with gluten, and if they were, the FDA's got your back; that wine brand would have to add that 'Contains' statement to the bottle. So, be comfortable raising a glass of wine, knowing that gluten is not a worry.