Two days ago, my chiropractor friend, Diana, who recently started the Paleo diet, said, “I think wine is sometimes bothering me with a gluten reaction. But it is only sometimes.” Of course that started the whole wheat paste in oak barrel production discussion from my first wine blog entry. What I didn’t discuss in that entry was the “hit or miss” syndrome in wine drinking or tasting, which furthers the confusion and controversy on the topic.
After MUCH original research, i.e. wine tasting, hours on the phone with coopers in Napa Valley, and talking to the actual wine makers in many, many boutique wineries throughout California, I discovered several things from the wine makers and coopers:
- Huge bulk wineries usually cannot afford to age their wines in oak barrels. They use the more economical stainless steel tanks to age wine. Thus, wineries like Gallo can claim that their wines are gluten free, which they are if aged in stainless steel.
- Some quirky boutique wineries reuse their barrels over and over, thoroughly cleaning all residue out of the barrels each time. Chances are these wines are gluten free. The wine maker at Kirigin Winery told me that he had not bought a new barrel in 17 years. He could pretty much guarantee that there would not be one molecule of gluten in any of his wines after 17 years of cleaning and recleaning, and I believe that is probably true
- Some wineries filter their wines to such a degree before bottling that the gluten molecule, which is rather large, gets filtered out, usually making these wines safe for gluten intolerants. Sycamore Creek Winery in Gilroy sterile filters all of the wine under their new Flagship Reserve label. I have never had a reaction to sterile filtered wines. Yeah! Plus, I will be talking about the filtration process in length in my next wine blog entry.
- Some of the coopers, who merely use the wheat paste to glue the ends to the staves, would like to claim the wines made in these barrels are gluten free because they thoroughly rinse the insides of the barrels before sending them to the wineries. Theoretically, the chance of getting a random wheat molecule that did not get eliminated during the rinsing process would be nil. Yes, I have had reactions to wine made in these barrels, so this is a less than perfect method for removing the wheat molecules.
- Coopers from other countries may not use this wheat paste practice, maybe making foreign wines okay. I talked to a friend yesterday, who just got back from a two week trip to the Mendoza wine region in Argentina. After talking to an extremely well informed sommelier at one of the wineries, she thought the Malbec and all the the wines from that winery might be safe. The sommelier assured her that she had watched the wine barrel making process, and there was no wheat paste or powder used. As soon as I get the name of this winery, I am going to Bev Mo to find it. I like to test a potentially iffy wine on a Saturday night when I have nothing important planned on Sunday, in case a hidden gluten takes me out on Sunday. My daughter, another Celiac impaired, has had some good luck with red wines from Bordeau and Italy.
YES, with all these variables in any given oak-aged wine, drinking wine and having a reaction is a Hit or Miss proposition. That explains why the reactions or non reactions to oak-aged wines are exactly that…Hit or Miss. It’s a confusing proposition at best.
How I have dealt with it is to not drink oak-aged wine, unless I have talked to the wine maker about filtration and the source and use of their barrels. Short of being able to talk to the wine maker, not the wine pourer at a tasting room (who may or may not know anything substantial about the actual wine making operation at the winery), I forego. It is sad, but safe.
My go-to varietals:
Sauvignon Blanc – a few are aged in oak barrels, so you need to talk to the wine maker if possible or take your chances
Riesling – preferably dry
Champagne and Sparkling Wines
Sycamore Creek Vineyard’s Flagship Label
Kirigin Winery – theoretically ok, but have not tested them yet on my own digestive tract
A Sniff and Two Sips – our backyard grown and made Merlot and Cab.
Diana update… she stuck to Sauvignon Blanc last weekend and had no cramping. Today’s entry is dedicated to you, Diana.
As an aside, 98% of these busy winemakers and coopers in Napa and the less famous wine regions all over California (Anderson Valley, San Luis Obispo, South Bay Area Counties like Santa Cruz and Santa Clara, Hollister, and the Folsom, Sierra Nevada Foothill areas, etc.) were unbelievably generous with their time and genuine interest in helping me explore this issue with them. I found it remarkable how open and patient they were with my inquiries, because who am I, a random person asking in depth and detailed questions for my own interest and personal health. I was especially stunned that the actual coopers in Napa Valley, supplying some of the most famous wineries in the world would not only get on the phone, but willingly detail the barrel making process with me. I can only assume that the gluten issue has become so well publicized in the last five years that they were interested in talking and thinking through the issues with a wine lover trying to weave her way through the landmine of a GF lifestyle.
Thank you to each and every one of you in the industry, who have helped me learn so much!