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  • Gryphon Myers
    Gryphon Myers

    Is Wine Aged in Wheat-glued Oak Barrels Gluten-free?

    Reviewed and edited by a celiac disease expert.
    Is Wine Aged in Wheat-glued Oak Barrels Gluten-free? - Photo: CC--Alberto Alerigi
    Caption: Photo: CC--Alberto Alerigi

    Celiac.com 10/22/2012 - Wine is naturally gluten-free, making it a go-to alcoholic drink for sufferers of celiac disease. However, some vintners use oak barrels sealed with wheat paste, which has made some people wonder if it is really gluten-free. An article posted by Tricia Thompson, MS, RD on her Gluten-Free Watchdog website may have finally put this worry to rest, as she has done a series of sandwich R5 ELISA and competitive R5 ELISA tests of various wines aged in such barrels.

    Photo: CC--Alberto AlerigiSo there's a wine you'd like to try, but you've heard that wine can be cross contaminated from the wheat paste some vintners use to seal oak barrels. The first thing to consider before spending too much time researching is that the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau currently disallows gluten-free labeling of alcoholic beverages if the producer used “storage materials that contained gluten.” This means any wine that is labeled as gluten-free was aged using a barrel alternative, and thus carries no danger of cross-contamination.



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    Another factor to consider is that while many wineries still use oak barrels, barrel alternatives are highly common as well. Roughly speaking, the more expensive ($12+) Cabernet Sauvignons, Merlots, Zinfandels and red blends are more likely to be aged in oak barrels (and for a longer period of time).

    For those wines that are fermented in barrels, most wineries thoroughly pressure wash all barrels with boiling hot water before they are used. Additionally, it is not the staves of the barrels that are sealed with a wheat flour paste, but the barrel heads. The amount used to seal the head is minimal. Even so, the possibility of cross contamination has been a lingering question.

    To get a sense of just how risky this cross contamination might be, Tricia Thompson tested a single winery's Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which were the two wines that spent the most time in wheat-sealed oak barrels. She tested each wine four times: twice with the Sandwich R5 ELISA test, and twice with the competitive R5 ELISA test. The competitive R5 ELISA is the current standard for testing for hydrolyzed (broken down) gluten (as would be found in fermented products), while the sandwich R5 ELISA would detect any non-hydrolyzed gluten (as from a wheat paste).

    Both extractions of both wines came back with the lowest possible results for both tests:

    Cabernet Sauvignon

    • Sandwich R5 ELISA extraction 1: < 5 ppm gluten
    • Sandwich R5 ELISA extraction 2: < 5 ppm gluten
    • Competitive R5 ELISA extraction 1: < 10 ppm gluten
    • Competitive R5 ELISA extraction 2: < 10 ppm gluten

    Merlot

    • Sandwich R5 ELISA extraction 1: < 5 ppm gluten
    • Sandwich R5 ELISA extraction 2: < 5 ppm gluten
    • Competitive R5 ELISA extraction 1: < 10 ppm gluten
    • Competitive R5 ELISA extraction 2: < 10 ppm gluten

    Thompson's findings indicate that even wine that is aged in wheat-glue-sealed oak barrels contains less gluten than we are currently capable of testing for, whether hydrolyzed or not. If you're still skeptical, you can always do your own research and find out which of your favorite wines are aged using barrel alternatives.

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    Wine is great. It naturally reduces your odds of getting cancer, it's good for your digestive system, and now I find out it's (mostly) Gluten-free!

     

    As far as the gluten testing, I'm curious to find out what steps you can take to do this. I browsed the link you provided and didn't find a readily-visible process or set of steps. I don't suffer from celiac disease, but I'm sure that someone who does will be interested in a quick way to test their wines at home.

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    Wine is great. It naturally reduces your odds of getting cancer, it's good for your digestive system, and now I find out it's (mostly) Gluten-free!

     

    As far as the gluten testing, I'm curious to find out what steps you can take to do this. I browsed the link you provided and didn't find a readily-visible process or set of steps. I don't suffer from celiac disease, but I'm sure that someone who does will be interested in a quick way to test their wines at home.

    ELISA - enzyme linked immunosorbent assay

     

    Don't try this at home.

     

    This is a very specialized assay which requires training and skill to perform, not to mention the correct materials including the appropriate material in the specialized plates and a spectrophotometric plate reader to perform.

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    Then why am I SOOOO sick from a half of a glass???

     

    This article should include the rationale for the TTB's decision on gluten-free labeling. They chose to do so because there is not enough proof that the ELISA test is able to correctly estimate gluten in hydrolyzed products.

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    Then why am I SOOOO sick from a half of a glass???

     

    This article should include the rationale for the TTB's decision on gluten-free labeling. They chose to do so because there is not enough proof that the ELISA test is able to correctly estimate gluten in hydrolyzed products.

    Just because the TTB has not approved the R5 Competitive ELISA test for detection of hydrolyzed gluten does not mean it is not effective... they are merely taking a conservative stance. The gluten-free diet has not been approved by the FDA as a treatment for celiac disease... does that mean it doesn't work?

     

    Furthermore, as the article we cited points out, in this particular situation, gluten contamination would come from a non-hydrolyzed source (wheat paste). The sandwich R5 ELISA assay, which is the current standard for gluten testing set by the Codex Alimentarius, would detect any contamination. BOTH tests were used and NEITHER detected anything within their respective detection thresholds.

     

    You could be getting sick from something else entirely, as it's probably not gluten. Have you verified that the wine you're drinking was aged in a barrel? Do you have issues with yeast, sulfites or egg whites (which are often used as a clarifying agent)?

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    Then why am I SOOOO sick from a half of a glass???

     

    This article should include the rationale for the TTB's decision on gluten-free labeling. They chose to do so because there is not enough proof that the ELISA test is able to correctly estimate gluten in hydrolyzed products.

    Are you allergic to "Sulfa"?

     

    I am and can't do wine or medications containing "Sulfa"

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    Wine is great. It naturally reduces your odds of getting cancer, it's good for your digestive system, and now I find out it's (mostly) Gluten-free!

     

    As far as the gluten testing, I'm curious to find out what steps you can take to do this. I browsed the link you provided and didn't find a readily-visible process or set of steps. I don't suffer from celiac disease, but I'm sure that someone who does will be interested in a quick way to test their wines at home.

    I most definitely respond to gluten in wine and sherry. I wrote to a number of wine producers and supermarkets to ask if they supplied any wines that had been produced without contact with gluten. Only Waitrose responded with a wine list. I haven't had any problems with the listed wines so far - but I don't drink much so haven't tried many. I have just had a gluten response to Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry, and I see on the Waitrose website that it is listed as 'gluten free'.

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    I most definitely respond to gluten in wine and sherry. I wrote to a number of wine producers and supermarkets to ask if they supplied any wines that had been produced without contact with gluten. Only Waitrose responded with a wine list. I haven't had any problems with the listed wines so far - but I don't drink much so haven't tried many. I have just had a gluten response to Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry, and I see on the Waitrose website that it is listed as 'gluten free'.

    I continue to offer a challenge to anyone who can point me to any normal bottle of wine that will test positive for gluten. So far I've not heard of any.

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    I have been commercially making wine for 20 years. I keep getting questions from this crowd about 'wheat paste' used in wine barrels. You can find hundreds of websites that make this claim but I have been unable to find a single oak supplier who can confirm this. Even if there is some glue used in barrel productions do you know how impossible that would be to get into your wine? You breathe more gluten on a daily basis than you would drink if you consumed an entire 60 gallon barrel of wine. It's such a ridiculous myth ---- please inform yourselves and stop wasting wineries time asking this ridiculous question. On a more scientific note - gluten is a protein --- even if a wine was fermented completely from rye, almost all wines go through some type of protein stability which would drop the protein out of the wine prior to racking, filtering clarifying.. If this didn't happen you would have a haze precipitate on the bottom of the bottle - ie. protein instability. You could simply rack this off and drink what's left.

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    I was ill recently after having eaten at a local restaurant, I had the house wine to drink. After emailing the restaurant and advising them of my illness, they were very shocked. After doing some research I was informed that I was ill due to the wheat paste used to seal the oak barrels. I had not heard of this before but on several occasions felt ill after drinking certain wines. Very odd. I was advised that none of the food I consumed had any gluten in.

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    I was ill recently after having eaten at a local restaurant, I had the house wine to drink. After emailing the restaurant and advising them of my illness, they were very shocked. After doing some research I was informed that I was ill due to the wheat paste used to seal the oak barrels. I had not heard of this before but on several occasions felt ill after drinking certain wines. Very odd. I was advised that none of the food I consumed had any gluten in.

    Wine is gluten-free and this myth about wheat-paste making it not safe is just that--a myth!

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  • About Me

    Gryphon Myers

    Gryphon Myers recently graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in interdisciplinary studies, research emphasis in art, society and technology. He is a lifelong vegetarian, an organic, local and GMO-free food enthusiast and a high fructose corn syrup abstainer. He currently lives in Northern California. He also writes about and designs video games at Homunkulus.


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