Ask Wine Wizard

Wine and Gluten Allergy


Bob McKee — Tucker, Georgia asks,

Can you tell me if typical wines in the store contain gluten or if certain yeasts contain gluten? Gluten is a protein in wheat, barley, rye and oats. If any of these grains are used to carry or grow the yeast, I would think the wine would have enough of the protein to trigger the allergy.


I myself don’t suffer from Celiac Disease, nor am I gluten sensitive so I’ve never had to even think about this issue, though I know a lot of other people do.

For readers who may not know, gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grain products. A certain percentage of the population has what’s called Celiac Disease and suffer an adverse immune response whenever they ingest gluten. Symptoms can range from poor nutrient absorption to diarrhea to fatigue, and the condition often goes undiagnosed as the symptoms can be so easily confused with other issues. Those with the disease make a point of avoiding eating anything that may contain gluten and often spend quite a lot of time investigating “hidden” sources of gluten in their diet. It’s easy to give up the baguette and bagels but not so easy to avoid gluten when it’s historically been used even in non-food items — like the old kind of lickable stamps!

To investigate gluten in wine yeast I put in a call to my friendly neighborhood yeast supplier, Scott Labs in Windsor, California, and found out that Lallemand, the company I tend to patronize when I purchase my yeast through Scott, has paperwork that shows that they do not use any grain products in developing their yeast cultures and that their yeast cultures are gluten free. If you are truly concerned I would certainly try to get ahold of a customer service person at your yeast company of choice.

As for gluten in commercial wine, I’ve read that some wineries are able to certify that their wines are gluten free if you call their customer service number. Even so, I’m really not worried about gluten being in wine in the first place. While wine certainly does contain a small amount of dissolved protein (naturally coming from the grapes — grapes do not contain gluten), winemakers typically do not add products that contain gluten to wine. For example, I’ve never heard of fining with grain protein. I’ve read some pretty panicked posts on the Internet about fear of barrel-makers using a wheat-based paste on the barrel heads during barrel construction. I’m not sure if any barrel-makers still do this (I heard about it as a college student as a very “old school” way to make a barrel — these days coopers use more-sanitary paraffin wax) but you can always call the barrel company.

If you want to avoid gluten in wine from this possible (but in my opinion highly unlikely) source, stick to wines that probably haven’t seen any barrel time, like young non-Chardonnay white wines under $12.00/bottle. I give a price point reference because using barrels is expensive (and barrel-aged wines tend to be subsequently more expensive) and is traditional mainly in Chardonnay, not in stainless-steel fermented and aged types  of wine like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio.

Beware of commercial wines being marketed heavily as “gluten free.” The American Dietetic Association considers wine and most alcoholic spirits to be safe and so wines hyping their “gluten free” status may be just trying to find a unique marketing angle. However, since I’m not a doctor, I encourage everyone with Celiac Disease to do your own research. If you have a sample of wine you’d like to test for gluten, food analytical labs, like EMSL Analytical Inc. (www.foodtestinglab.com, 866-798-1089) will accept samples to test — for a fee of course.

Response by Alison Crowe.