Sunday, January 28, 2007

Wine hives

~When I was a teenager, I suffered from an unidentified allergy. I took volumes of tests, plus copious amounts of the most dangerous steroids without having been made aware of the dangers. Alas, it was to no particular avail.
~ At one point I had been given a list of the foods and things to avoid, which any sane person could see would have meant living in a bubble and so I never could follow the ridiculous advice.
~This so-called allergic response went on for about four years and then, to my delight, the seeming allergies simply melted away. I am happy about that, but I never want to experience those hives again.
~After my trip through the medical wonderland, I certainly understand people who suffer from allergies—and it is great if they know what to avoid so that they no longer suffer.
~So, if you are allergic to fish, milk, eggs, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans, and yeast you should stop drinking wine; at least you should stop drinking it until the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau makes a decision whether or not to require ingredient labeling for wine.
~Is this another case of the nanny culture or is there anything to wine label ingredient requirements?
~What are fish, milk, eggs, nuts, et al, doing in wine anyway?
~Mostly, they are clarifying wine.

Casein, egg white, evaporated milk, isinglass (derived from sturgeon bladder) are all used as fining agents, to remove components and proteins that cause hazing or cloudiness. Wheat gluten is also a potential fining agent for red wine.
Tannin is natural to grapes; it is the substance that helps wine to age. A wine with too little tannin might be manipulated and have tannin added to it; for this purpose, tannins derived from chestnut or oak trees are sometimes used.

~I certainly understand the need for labeling wine for its potential allergens and yet, I hesitate to endorse the label requirement.
~In Australia, a ten-year database of consumer information by the regulatory information manager of the Australian Wine Research Institute found that out of about 850 cases only one allergic reaction was attributed to fining agents used in wine.
~Further, the cases of adverse reactions attributed to other substances found in wine, like biogenic amines and sulfites, are mostly unsubstantiated anecdotes, and even they amount to but a few cases.

In many other studies, not much conclusive about allergens and wine seems available beyond the potential asthmatic/respiratory reaction from sulfites.

~The wine industry’s general position is that filtration removes enough of the potential allergen particles as to render wine safe. The industry also points out that a scientific method of detecting traces of most of the substances does not exist. If you can’t measure a substance, how can you say on the label that it is in the wine?
~Maybe you can’t.
~ If the filter and detection argument is true, then the government might be over reacting to some sort of outside pressure. What could that pressure be? Could it be anti-alcohol or pseudo scientists at work?

A statement made to the government by one advocate of wine labeling for allergens talked about the many children between 2 and 5 who have allergies to peanuts, eggs, and milk. I suspect the minimum drinking age of 21 would take care of that problem, or am I missing something?
In an attempt to maintain their monopolistic hold on wine distribution, the national wine wholesalers’ association makes a specious argument that allowing wine to be purchased online and shipped across state lines would increase under-age drinking, but even they likely wouldn’t go so far as to say that we need to protect children between 2 and 5 from allergens in wine!

~As much as I enjoy ripping government apart whenever it presents an opportunity, as much as I abhor ideologues, and as much as I think consumers need to be responsible for their own lives, I find myself in a bad spot on this issue.
~I’ve been saying for years that even if the present government warning on wine were completely justified, the way it is written makes it useless information. But in the case of allergies, it generally doesn’t take much for an allergen to cause a human reaction. The best course is to avoid the offending substance—to do that, you don’t need a warning, just a list.
~So, to the question, should wine producers be required to print ingredient labels, I equivocate—MAYBE.
~There is of course another alternative: the government can ban additives to wine. For the life of me I cannot understand, since tannin can be derived from grapes, grape cluster stems, and grape seeds, why is added tannin derived from nut trees, except maybe that it is a cheaper source. Losing that additive doesn’t seem like a big deal. I am sure other additives can be addressed.
~Then there are the many wines that claim to have been produced “unfined and unfiltered.” With no additives, these wines should be allergen free.

But one problem would still remain. To paraphrase a famous Humphrey Bogart line: wine’ll always have yeast.

Here are some links: grape, allerg,

Natalie Maclean sent me a copy of her book, Red, White and Drunk All Over. I found it fun to read. Blended with stories of her wine travels, you will find educational tidbits about winemaking in various locations. There is a riff on wine critics, but Natalie doesn't take a stand, which I wish she had done. A link for the book is to your left, with my book links.

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
January, 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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