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Why is red wine not gluten-free?

Red wine is made from grapes, so it would seem logical that it should be gluten-free. However, there are several reasons why traditional red wine is not considered gluten-free. Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity react negatively when they ingest gluten and can experience digestive issues, fatigue, joint pain and other symptoms. Understanding what makes red wine not gluten-free is important for people who need to follow a strict gluten-free diet.

Gluten Contamination in the Vineyard

One reason red wine may contain traces of gluten is due to contamination that occurs in the vineyard. Gluten-containing grains may be grown in nearby fields and the wind can carry particles onto grape vines. Another potential source of contamination is the use of wheat-based products as sealants on barrels and storage containers used in the fields. Vineyard workers may also bring gluten-containing food into the fields, causing cross-contact. Even tiny amounts of gluten can cause issues for those with celiac disease or sensitivity.

Use of Gluten-Containing Ingredients

Some wineries intentionally add gluten-containing ingredients during the winemaking process. These include:

Clarifying Agents

– Casein (milk protein): Binds to tannins and removes sediment
– Egg whites: Removes excess tannins and colors
– Gelatin: Removes excess tannins

Fining Agents

– Isinglass (fish collagen/gelatin): Binds to sediment particles, aiding removal
– PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone): Reduces browning and removes excess color

Yeast Nutrients

– Wheat flour: Provides amino acids and minerals to nourish yeast
– Wheat gluten: Helps yeast fermentation by providing nutrients

While many of these agents are removed from the finished wine, trace residues can remain and be problematic for those avoiding gluten. Some wineries now avoid using gluten-containing fining and clarifying agents.

Oak Barrels

During the red winemaking process, wine is often aged in oak barrels, which impart desirable flavors and tannins to the wine. However, these barrels are sealed with wheat paste containing gluten. Over time, small amounts of the wheat paste can leach into the wine. One study found detectable levels of gluten in about 25% of wines aged in oak barrels sealed this way.

Malolactic Fermentation

Many red wines undergo malolactic fermentation, in which malic acid is converted to lactic acid by lactic acid bacteria. This helps soften the wine’s acidity and imparts buttery or creamy notes. However, some wineries add wheat flour or other gluten-containing nutrients to support the growth of the lactic acid bacteria. Residual amounts can end up in the finished red wine.

Flavored Wines

Many flavored red wines, such as cherry, peach or pomegranate flavored, have additional ingredients added post-fermentation. These flavorings often contain gluten, including:

– Caramel color: Contains wheat, barley or rye
– Fruit juice concentrates: May be grain-based
– Natural and artificial flavors: Can be derived from gluten sources

Plain red wines are a safer bet for avoiding gluten. Sweetened, flavored or spiced red wines are more likely to have questionable ingredients.

Gluten-Removed Wines

Some wineries use special processing techniques to remove gluten from wines that contain it. This includes the use of gluten-digesting enzymes to break down residual gluten molecules into non-reactive parts. Wines made this way may be labeled as “gluten-free” or “gluten-removed.” However, standards for testing and labeling these wines for gluten content varies. Those with celiac disease are still advised to use caution with these wines.

Level of Gluten in Red Wine

Studies looking at the gluten content of red wines have found:

Red Wine Category Gluten Range (Parts Per Million)
Grape-based only 0-13 ppm
Oaked 0-56 ppm
Flavored/fortified 17-79 ppm

The Codex Alimentarius international food standards organization suggests wines with less than 20 ppm of gluten can be labeled as “gluten-free.” However, studies show some wines exceed this level. The exact amount of gluten that causes issues is unknown and variable for each individual. Strict avoidance is still recommended for those with celiac disease.

Risks of Gluten in Red Wine

The following are potential health risks associated with consuming red wines containing gluten:

Gastrointestinal Distress

Abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea and nausea are common symptoms of gluten ingestion in those with celiac disease or sensitivity. Even small amounts can trigger a reaction.

Malabsorption and Nutrient Deficiencies

Gluten damages the intestines and reduces the absorption of nutrients like iron, calcium and folate. This can lead to anemia and osteoporosis over time.

Fatigue and Joint Pain

Inflammation triggered by gluten reactions can cause chronic fatigue, headaches and joint/muscle aches.

Skin Rashes

Celiac disease is associated with several skin conditions, including dermatitis herpetiformis, characterized by itchy rashes and blisters. Ingesting gluten can cause flare-ups.

Increased Cancer Risk

One study showed a doubled risk of intestinal lymphoma in celiac patients who followed a gluten-free diet but still had trace gluten exposure.

While an occasional glass of questionable wine might be tolerated, those with celiac disease should be vigilant about avoiding gluten from all sources, including wine.

Tips for Choosing Gluten-Free Red Wine

Here are some tips for selecting red wines likely to be gluten-free:

– Look for wines certified gluten-free by an independent organization like the Gluten Intolerance Group or the Celiac Support Association. This ensures thorough testing.

– Opt for wines labeled 100% grape wine with no added sulfites or other ingredients listed.

– Call the winery directly and ask about their gluten-free status and winemaking practices. Smaller wineries are more likely to take gluten concerns seriously.

– Check producer websites for statements about gluten-free status and protocols. Some detail ingredient sourcing and processing.

– Stick to basic single varietal red wines like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon rather than blends or flavored wines.

– Avoid oak-aged red wines. Wines aged in steel vats have lower gluten risk.

– Purchase newly released wines that haven’t been stored in facilities with dust from barrel remnants over many years.

– Shop at specialty wine stores with dedicated gluten-free sections and trained staff.

Gluten-Free Red Wine Alternatives

Those adhering to a strict gluten-free diet may want to consider these alternative alcoholic beverages instead of traditional red wine:

Gluten-Removed Wine

As noted earlier, some wines undergo processing to remove gluten and contain less than 20 ppm. These include many major brands.

Grape-Based Spirits

Distilled alcoholic drinks like brandy, Cognac and Armagnac are made from grape wine and contain no gluten from grains.

Gluten-Free Beers

Crafted from ingredients like sorghum, rice, buckwheat or corn. Check labels for gluten-free certification.

Hard Ciders

Made from fermented apple juice instead of grapes. Confirm no gluten ingredients added.


Honey-based fermented drinks with no gluten sources. Varieties include braggots, fruit meads, hopped meads, and sparkling meads.

Wines from Alternative Fruits

Wines fermented from rice, bananas, or gluten-free berries with no gluten added during processing.

Other Tips for Following a Gluten-Free Diet

Avoiding gluten in red wine can seem challenging. Here are some other tips for living gluten-free:

– Learn to read food labels closely to identify hidden gluten sources, like malt extracts.

– Look for “Certified Gluten-Free” labels from reputable third-party organizations.

– Check medications, supplements and vitamins for gluten fillers like wheat starch.

– Notify restaurants ahead of time about gluten-free needs when eating out.

– Avoid cross-contact by using dedicated cookware, storage containers and work areas in gluten-free kitchens.

– Carefully check personal care products like lip balms and lotions for gluten ingredients.

– Join gluten-free online communities to exchange recommendations and ask questions.

– Work closely with a knowledgeable physician when transitioning to a gluten-free diet.


Despite being made from grapes, most traditional red wines are not gluten-free due to cross-contamination and use of gluten-containing ingredients during production. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid uncertain red wines to prevent adverse reactions. Choosing certified gluten-free wines, grape spirits, ciders, meads or gluten-removed wine alternatives is a safer option. Careful label reading, personal contact with producers and working with knowledgeable retailers can help identify red wines less likely to contain problematic gluten. With proper precautions, people avoiding gluten can still enjoy red wine in moderation as part of an otherwise healthy gluten-free diet.