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  • Gryphon Myers
    Gryphon Myers

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


    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.

    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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    Another commercial winemaker chiming in on the topic... non celiac. Coopers use a mixture of flour and water to seal the head of the barrel along the staves. My barrel supplier uses a rice flour at our direction to avoid any possibility of a gluten intolerant having an issue. I just got a call from someone complaining of getting 'sick' from my wine due to gluten intolerance. I was unable to convince her this was impossible. As mentioned earlier by the other winemaker, gluten, being a protein is highly unlikely to make it past clarification, fining, and filtration. It is my sincere belief that celiacs are sickly people in general and the mind is a powerful device that can manifest illness, pain, depression, anxiety to satisfy a subconscious need for attention. I'm sympathetic to the lifestyle but I resent the constant vilification from anecdotal evidence.

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    Another commercial winemaker chiming in on the topic... non celiac. Coopers use a mixture of flour and water to seal the head of the barrel along the staves. My barrel supplier uses a rice flour at our direction to avoid any possibility of a gluten intolerant having an issue. I just got a call from someone complaining of getting 'sick' from my wine due to gluten intolerance. I was unable to convince her this was impossible. As mentioned earlier by the other winemaker, gluten, being a protein is highly unlikely to make it past clarification, fining, and filtration. It is my sincere belief that celiacs are sickly people in general and the mind is a powerful device that can manifest illness, pain, depression, anxiety to satisfy a subconscious need for attention. I'm sympathetic to the lifestyle but I resent the constant vilification from anecdotal evidence.

    You, Dominic are a jerk! I hope to find out what wine you make so as to avoid giving you one red cent. I wouldn't wish celiac on my own worst enemy but now I am reconsidering that because of your rude and insensitive comments. KARMA is a b%$@#!

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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.

    I hear what you are saying, but I have had a "reaction" to a Malbec reserve wine from Argentina and not other red wines. So maybe the aging in the barrel for reserve wines adds to a gluten level in the wine from the extended time held in the oak barrels? I am not sure, and I do understand that the wine in filtered and clarified prior to bottling as well. So for now I am going to drink red wines that do not bother me and try to replicate this problem with another reserve wine not made in the USA. PS- I love red wine and will not give it up!

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    Good article, great that you added test results. I think it is most likely that wine is gluten-free. Don't forget all you who say you get reactions that lots of gluten-free certified food also has gluten in it, it just has less than 20 parts per million by weight. That is still quite a considerable amount, as the body of evidence shows Coeliacs can cope with small levels of gluten. So drink red wine and be happy. After 5 years on a gluten-free diet I do not think it is so bad an affliction, there again I have had Leukemia, so maybe it is relative!

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  • About Me

    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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