Hayley Tink is yeast intolerant – which ruled most wines off her menu. So she was thrilled to discover that champagne is, in fact, yeast free. She explains how – and looks at the viniferous possibilities for other food allergic/intolerant people.
Have you recently experienced an allergic reaction but did not know what you were reacting to? Well, if you drink wine, you may in fact have reacted to a hidden ingredient in your favourite tipple.
In the UK, current food labelling regulations do not require any drinks with an alcohol content exceeding 1.2% by volume to list all their ingredients. So, for the majority of wines, we have little idea of what we’re actually drinking – although things may be changing soon – see below.
Most of us are aware of the obvious allergens in wine such as grapes and yeast, but these tend not to be the problem – if you are allergic to yeast or grapes you would be rather silly to be drinking wine anyway (although if yeast is the problem you may still be able to drink champagne – see below).
Sulphites are however a common problem – this is a preservative used to keep the wine drinkable for longer periods and is known to cause problems for many people (see this article on sulphite allergy). However, identifying the presence of sulphites is less of an issue as, under EU rules, sulphites now have to be labelled on the bottle if the finished wine contains more than 10 milligrams per litre of sulphur dioxide (which most stable wines do).
It is however the hidden, unexpected ingredients that are the real problem. Usually added in the processing of wine – to improve the flavour, stop it going cloudy or for other technical reasons – these ‘fining’ agents are commonly used in many types of wine.
Strictly speaking they are not an ingredient as the fining agent is ‘passed through’ the wine – but small traces may remain in the wine once bottled and so are likely to cause problems for those with a severe allergies.
While, as yet, there is no sign of legislation requiring all ingredients to be listed on wine bottles, an EU directive has been issued which requires the listing of milk and egg products used in the fining process from 31 May 2009. However, the wine manufacturers will still be able to use up old stocks, so labelling for milk and egg products may remain a bit of a minefield for a while after that.
Hayley’s Organic, Free-from Shortlist
A brief shortlist of wines that are free of milk, egg, and fish allergens, sulphite free and are organic – see the websites opposite. This is only a starting point and being yeast intolerant, I have only tasted the champagne (delicious) so cannot comment on the taste of the others!
Country/Type - Manufacturer - Name
French Champagne - AOC - Carte Rouge/Carte d’or
Finding Allergen-free Wine and Champagne
One: If you are intolerant to yeast, drink champagne!
Two: Shop at food retailers with ‘honest labelling policies’.
Three: Buy vegan wine
If you prefer to do your wine shopping at the supermarket, Sainsbury’s own brand ‘Taste the difference’ and ‘SO Organic’ wines (plus beer and cider), now have the suitability for vegetarians or vegans indicated on the back label of the product concerned. Sainsbury’s also told me that they are currently working with their suppliers to have the suitable for vegetarians or vegans indicated on the back label where applicable on other products too.
I hope this information has been helpful – so happy allergy-free tasting! I am now off to research allergen-free beers and spirits ...
First Published July 2008