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I am a wine lover, but unfortunately I have an intolerance to yeast…



Yeast-free wine?

I am a wine lover, but unfortunately I have an intolerance to yeast. Is there a yeast-free or low-yeast wine?

via email

Though I’m no medical doctor (I limit myself to diagnosing and treating troubled wines), I hope I can give you some yeast-related information to discuss with your personal physician. As all wine is created by yeast (that’s the definition of a fermented alcoholic beverage), there’s no such thing as a wine that’s never been touched by yeast. That’s why I’m curious to know what you are truly intolerant of; is it the yeast cells themselves or a byproduct of fermentation? If it is the former, you might be able to tolerate wines that have been sterile filtered, that is, passed through an 0.45 micron membrane before being bottled. The tight pore size of the filter membrane will exclude most yeast cells and keep them from passing into the finished bottle of wine. If you are intolerant of a specific by-product of fermentation like a type of amino acid (too small to be filtered out) I’d have a hard time recommending specific products for you to try unless I knew for sure what the true culprit was.

The good news is that most wines that you can buy off the supermarket shelf don’t contain a lot of yeast cells; if they did, the wines would look cloudy and might even re-ferment in the bottle. Large commercial-scale wineries work hard to ensure that their wines get to market with little or no yeast cells; zero viable cells per bottle is the goal. Commercial white wines, especially those styles that don’t go through a malolactic fermentation (where helpful bacteria eat natural malic acid in grapes and turn it into lactic acid), will almost always be sterile filtered. This is because residual malic acid is a tempting treat for any ambient bacteria that would be abundant in unfiltered wine.

If you are trying to avoid yeast cells in your beverages, you probably should stay away from homemade wine unless you can guarantee that it’s been sterile filtered. I would also avoid homemade Champagne-style wines and beers that have been re-fermented in their serving bottles to get their final fizz. Just because a product can be bought off the shelf doesn’t mean it’s always been sterile filtered, however. Do be careful because some commercial beers, microbrews and, I would suspect, even some commercially available sparkling wines, use the word “unfiltered” as a selling point and could possibly contain hundreds of yeast cells (or none at all) per bottle. Similarly, some commercial wine producers, especially those that make expensive red wines, don’t filter their wines either and they have a higher likelihood of going into the bottle with higher levels of yeast cells than any sterile-filtered wines.

Perhaps the best piece of advice I can give you is to ask the manufacturer and discuss the situation with your doctor. If you live in a wine-producing region you may be able to develop a relationship with a local vintner or two that can give you the details about their production methods. Though I would bet that most nationally-distributed white wines are sterile filtered (due to higher quality filtration techniques available, even many reds are these days), it’s tough to get a hold of those guys to double-check.

I encourage you to discuss my response with your doctor and see if drinking sterile-filtered wines, and therefore ingesting fewer yeast cells, would be allowable in your condition.