I’ve previously written columns on sensitivities to white or red wines. I’ve also written a column fostering the production of wines without the intervention of those produced in science labs. I’ve even written a column on the medicinal benefits of red wine.
In my internet travels I’ve come upon a research project conducted in Canada that ties all three of these topics together.
It would seem perfectly logical that wines produced naturally, without the use of chemicals in the vineyard or the winery, are intrinsically better for our health. And certainly, naturally produced red wines, containing health-enhancing resveratrol compounds, are intrinsically better than white wines.
But what of those unfortunate friends and relatives who are allergic to wine, whether red or white (or both)? Are they doomed to deprived lives if they abstain? Must they lead tortured lives if they flout their physiological aversions to wine?
It would seem so.
The ranks of these poor souls demonstrating an allergy or intolerance to wine are numerous. To clarify, the immune system of a certain percentage of us creates allergic reactions when wine is consumed. For certain others, it is our digestive system, histamines or sulfites that create an intolerance to wine, interfering with the manner in which alcohol is processed by our bodies.
Symptoms may include headaches, asthma-like breathing, sinus congestion, nausea or skin flushing – or any combination of these debilitating conditions. To be deprived of the ethereal sensory pleasures and the corporal health benefits of a glass of wine qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment.
Scientific and anecdotal evidence have ascribed these wine-related symptoms to various causes, but no declarative, definitive conclusions have been reached that cover the full spectrum of symptoms. Throughout my years of investigation, I’ve not found a common denominator that accounts for the widespread allergies that afflict so many wannabe wine consumers. At one point I felt that natural, unadulterated wines would alleviate the negative reactions suffered by so many. Unfortunately, these unadulterated wines contribute to allergic reactions as often as mainstream wines.
Now researchers at the University of British Columbia have discovered a compound in natural yeast that may be the baseline culprit accountable for many wine allergies or intolerances.
Naturally occurring neurotoxins in common yeasts are created as a byproduct of the fermentation process. Classified as bioamines, these compounds exist in various strains of natural and cultured yeasts. These yeasts are utilized by many winemakers to stabilize fermenting wines and to soften the high acidity present in many wines.
Having previously identified this culprit, the researchers now offer a solution. After 16 years of testing, they claim to have developed a genetically modified (GMO) form of yeast that eliminates bioamines. They have obtained approvals from several governmental agencies – including the FDA in the United States – to market this modified yeast commercially.
That’s it: A solution that will instantly transform wannabe wine consumers into enthusiastic wine lovers. Ah, not so fast, future wine snobs. Although this is a groundbreaking development, many regulatory bodies – the European Union, in particular – have strict laws banning the use of GMOs and are unlikely to change their position in the foreseeable future. Many consumers are not comfortable with altering yeast genetics either, especially those espousing natural wines.
What’s a consumer to do? Although there may be a solution, only time and further research will determine the viability of new, natural strains of bioamine-free yeasts. In the meantime, I offer several work-arounds that may be helpful for those prone to negative reactions to wine.
- Rosé wines are lower in offending yeast microbes than red wine. Experiment with a bottle.
- The red grape that has the highest levels of bioamines is Pinot Noir; abstain if possible.
- As wine ages, bioamines tend to dissipate in the barrel or bottle; drink aged wines whenever possible.
Modern science has a knack for finding solutions to age-old dilemmas. I look forward to the day when I can raise a glass of wine to anyone and everyone.
Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member of the Wine Media Guild of wine writers. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.