If you take a stroll through your local wine store, you may find a few bottles of wine with a warning on the label that reads “May contain eggs, milk or fish.” What does this mean?
While the majority of wine bottles do not have these warnings on the label, many wines and beers actually use eggs, milk or fish in the fining stage of production.The ingredient list will not include these allergens even though the wine has come into contact with them, because they are removed from the final product.
Fining is the process of clarifying wine by removing suspended solids, which is achieved by using a fining agent that binds to small particles to create larger clumps that are easily removed. There are many fining agents (clarifiers) used in wine making, but three of the most common clarifiers are, unfortunately, also considered common food allergens.
Albumin from egg whites has been used to filter red wines for centuries. The egg white binds to particles in the wine and the clumps fall to the bottom of the tank and are removed.
Isinglass is made from collagen that is extracted from the swim bladders of fish. It is a gentle filter, and is traditionally used on white and blush wines, or on wines that have already been cleared by other agents. It produces a thin layer of fine sediment and is removed.
Casein or Potassium Caseinate, is a milk protein traditionally used to reduce color and oxidative taints in white wines. Some fruit juice makers also use casein for the same purpose.
Should someone with food allergies to milk, eggs or fish avoid wine processed with these fining agents?
Once the fining agent has been added to the wine and allowed to bind to the particles, it is filtered out. In most cases, only elemental trace amounts of the fining agent remains and risk of allergic reaction is low, however comfort levels and sensitivities of each individual is different.
Are there safe allergy-friendly wine options?
Vegan wines do not use any animal byproducts in their processing. There are also wines processed with other fining agents that are allergy-safe alternatives.
How do you find out what fining agent has been used to clarify wine?
The ingredient list of a wine will not state the clarifier as an ingredient because it is removed from the final product. Calling or writing to the wine maker or distributor is the best way to discover which fining agent they use.
The most important takeaway is to ensure you ALWAYS carry an epinephrine auto-injector EVERY TIME you eat or drink. Allergens can be hiding where you least expect it.