Wine Allergies

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Some people suffer from wine allergies with symptoms that include headaches, irregular heartbeat, asthma, facial flushing, sinusitis and other reactions. For them, Monahan makes low-allergy wines (hypo-allergic). This means we avoid unnecessary additives where possible.

Let’s consider the chemicals and compounds found in wine and particularly the ones that affect people. They are, Preservative #220 also called Sulphur Dioxide or Sulphites, Preservative Potassium Sorbate (#202) or Sorbic Acid (#200), Wood tannins from oak, Tannins from skins/pips, Alcohol content and Salicylates, Amines.

Each of the above can have a role in causing allergies. However, it is generally the ‘combined total load’ of these chemicals that determine the severity of a reaction.

Many people are affected by the sulphites that are found in wines. Sulphites are a group of food chemicals numbered from 220 to 226.  The most common one used in Australia is Preservative 220 which is Sulphur Dioxide.  This additive is very reactive and binds with anything in its path. It’s an excellent chemical for destroying bacteria and ‘mopping up’ free oxygen.However, that same reactive ability is also the cause of allergy problems for some people.

Sulphites are measured in ‘parts per million’ or ppm. In most countries, a 750ml bottle of champagne can have up to 350ppm which is very high, considering the maximum daily intake is only 60ppm according to the World Health Organisation. Table wines can have up to 250ppm of sulphites added, and at that level a sensitive person can expect a nasty reaction after just one glass. Organic wines are half this level, and have a limit of only 125ppm in Australia.  Monahan ‘Low Preservative’ wines are even lower, and our whites are below 85ppm, and our reds are below 60ppm.

Oak Tannins
Some people avoid wines made with oak because it affects them poorly. This is interesting because oak barrels have been used in wine-making for centuries, and wine and oak are synonymous. However, oak is a problem for some people because it contains high levels of strong tannins that are the astringent component of timber designed to repel insects and grazing animals. These are quite complex phytonutrient molecules. Most people do not have a problem with oak, but some people will react adversely. The term tannin relates to their use in tanning animal hides to make leather, due to their astringent properties.

We do not use oak in our white wines because we believe the negatives outweigh the positives. Our red wines contain reduced levels of oak because we use aged French oak barrels. We do not use new barrels because the oak tannins and timber resins are highest in a brand new barrel. There are some naturally occurring allergens found in plants, like Salicylates that help protect them from diseases, and insects. And for a small percentage of people, these salicylates can cause health problems, and furthermore, there no lab tests to determine if a person is susceptible.This is because salicylate reactions only occur when the tolerance level of the person has been exceeded. As a general rule, those who can safely eat fresh fruits like apples, pears, grapes, cherries etc without ill affects, do not have a problem with salicylates.

Amines are another source of allergens. In wine, amines are formed by the breakdown of proteins in grapes during fermentation. These amines are normally broken down in the body with the help of enzymes which render them harmless, but someone with sluggish or blocked enzymes can be affected. The reality is that all foods are made up of hundreds of naturally occurring compounds that can have varying effects on us, depending on how much we eat and how sensitive we are. It is recommended that anyone affected by these types of natural plant compounds should select their wine carefully.

Total Load

Wine allergies affect people in different ways, but the more common symptoms are facial flushing, irregular heart beat, low blood pressure, headaches and asthma.  The poor effects experienced by some wine drinkers is caused by the ‘total load’ of additives and alcohol. At Monahan we go to great lengths to produce low-allergy wines where the ‘total load’ is low.

Provided by Monahan Estate Wines, Australia

Related Post: Sulfite Allergies.

Sulfite story

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