Is Wine Gluten-Free? The Answer May Not Be So Simple | Wine Enthusiast
Wine bottle illustration Displaying 0 results for
Suggested Searches
Articles & Content

Is Wine Gluten-Free? The Answer May Not Be So Simple

Adhering to a strict gluten-free diet can be stressful and time-consuming. Whether driven by celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the ability to read labels is an indispensable skill. But although most food products are required to include detailed nutritional and ingredient information on their labels, many alcoholic beverages are a different story.  

Sure, we know beer—famously a cereal grain-based beverage—is off the table for gluten-free folk, but what about wine? We asked industry experts if wine is gluten-free, so those with dietary restrictions can imbibe worry-free.   

Is Wine Gluten-Free?  

According to the FDA, in order for a product to be considered gluten-free, it must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Products that meet this legal standard contain less than 0.002% gluten.  

So, does wine meet these standards? Tricia Thompson, M.S., R.D., is the founder of the Gluten Free Watchdog, an organization that tests consumer products through Bia Diagnostics, a food testing lab in Vermont, to determine levels of potential gluten. Her answer? Yes, but with a caveat. (More on that below.) Wine has always been considered naturally gluten-free, she points out, since the ingredients used in fermentation (grapes and yeast) are naturally gluten-free ingredients. 

The Risk of Cross-Contamination  

But, it may not be so simple. Though wine’s ingredients are 100% gluten-free, there is always the risk of cross-contamination, which is the process by which bacteria or other microorganisms are inadvertently transferred from one surface or substance to another, sometimes with harmful effects.

Some winemaking processes could potentially unintentionally introduce gluten to the mix, like fining, which is the process of filtering out unwanted particles that may cause a wine to look hazy or taste bitter. Strict gluten-free adherents may want to ensure that fining agents are gluten-free. 

From a cross-contamination standpoint, that may be difficult to do, especially because most countries have different regulations when it comes to wine production. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reports that approved fining agents in the United States include chitosan (a type of sugar) and pea protein. Other countries, like Australia, tend to use ingredients like egg whites and gelatin.  

The good news for gluten-free folk? None of these additives contain gluten, in theory. (Several, however—including gelatin, isinglass and egg whites—contain animal products, which means they may not be suitable for vegetarian or vegan wine drinkers.)

Here’s the rub: There’s no way to say for sure that a wine was or wasn’t made with a fining agent cross-contaminated with gluten. But, Thompson notes, “In the U.S., The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau which oversees the industry, provides a list of materials authorized for the clarifying, filtering or purifying treatment of wines.” She notes that no gluten-containing ingredients are listed, and it’s reasonable to assume that most bottles made with fining agents are gluten-free.

Another risk factor to consider is that some wines are fermented or aged in oak barrels. This winemaking technique gives the finished product a soft, silky texture. Traditionally, the barrel heads (the round tops) were sealed with a gluten-rich, wheat-based paste, which theoretically presents a risk of gluten contamination. Red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel tend to age longer in these oak barrels and therefore may run a greater risk of being contaminated with gluten. That said, the risk is still very minimal.  

However, it’s clearly an issue on the minds of people concerned with gluten contamination. A representative from Independent Stave Company, the largest barrel maker worldwide notes, “In 2019 we switched from wheat flour and transitioned to gluten-free buckwheat flour and paraffin to seal heads.” 

This seems to have become the industry standard. “Since 2020, our barrel heads have been sealed with paraffin and beeswax,” says Mick Wilson, co-owner of Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula, California. Wilson has celiac disease and is particularly attuned to problems surrounding cross-contamination. “In earlier barrels, there was potential for gluten cross-contamination between the wine through the barrel heads,” he says.

That said, even Wilson acknowledges that the risk of such gluten cross-contamination was likely low. “The amount of flour paste to seal the barrel heads was minimal,” he explains. “Typically, the paste raised the amount of gluten to only five to 10 [parts per million].”  

Indeed, in 2012, to address the question of total gluten parts per million, Thompson’s organization tested bottles of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, both of which went through extended barrel aging. Gluten-free Watchdog found all samples tested contained less than 10 parts-per-million gluten.   

“Generally speaking, people with celiac disease who would like to enjoy a glass of wine should feel free to do so,” concludes Thompson. Of course, it’s important for those concerned to talk to their doctor about their personal risk.  

How to Choose a Gluten-Free Wine  

If you’re newly diagnosed and want to be absolutely certain that your wine didn’t come in contact with oak barrels, choose varieties aged in stainless-steel vats. Additionally, avoid flavored wine cocktails which can include barley malt (always a source of gluten) and added flavors that may contain gluten. 

And, if you want to support wineries going above and beyond to provide a full gluten-free experience, check out these spots. In addition to offering beyond-the-shadow-of-a-doubt gluten-free wine, these operations also provide gluten-free dining experiences. 

Gluten-Free Wineries 

Wilson Creek Winery, Temecula, California 

The celiac-accredited kitchen has gluten-free staff training and color-coded prep areas, utensils and plates. Plus, the property’s restaurant, the Creekside Grille, offers steaks, salmon and sandwiches all made on locally baked gluten-free bread. Don’t forget to stop in for the extensive gluten-free Sunday brunch.  

Solterra Winery & Kitchen, Leucadia California  

This winery and kitchen combo offers a largely gluten-free menu. Don’t miss the paella or the fish caught by winemaker and owner Chris Van Alyea on his skiff off the coast in San Diego, not to mention the daily happy hour.  

Cooper’s Hawk, locations nationwide   

A full gluten-free menu is available the operation’s many outposts, featuring contemporary global flavors with curated wine pairings. Everything is scratch-made and incorporates seasonal ingredients.  

Nashoba Valley Winery, Bolton, Massachusetts  

At the property’s Vintner’s Knoll tasting area, enjoy wine flights on the outdoor picnic grounds and indoor restaurant. Here, guests can enjoy wine flights along with gluten-free options like charcuterie platters, wraps and chocolate brownies. Or, experience award-winning fine dining at J’s Restaurant on a lovely restored farmstead, where dinner and Sunday brunch menu items are mostly gluten-free.