Considering the potential damage that can be done with sulphites, which is becoming more apparent, people are asking more questions, and gluten free wine has been asked about much more frequently. Yeast is a natural and essential part of fermentation to make wine, but until now nobody seems to be asking ‘is this wine gluten free?’
I’m almost certain that everyone knows someone who suffers from Coeliac Disease, and also someone else who lives a gluten free or low carb lifestyle. Whilst I am working furiously to learn more about wine, organic wine, but after getting to grips with sulphites in wine, sugar in wine and now gluten, it makes me realise just how little consumers know about the contents of a bottle of wine through no fault of their own.
Is there extra yeasts in wine?
Honestly, sometimes yes. Yeasts were not really added to wines until the second half of the 20th century. They were first sold in the US in 1974 and then into the Europe in 1977. But as grapes contain a natural, or indigenous, yeast that is more than capable of creating wines, the question is why is it needed, especially as there is a growing number of natural wines available? Then the same question arises, why is it not mentioned anywhere on the label.
Just as sulphites are added as a stabilising agent and preservative, additional yeasts are added to aid and control fermentation, to enhance the flavour or simply that the wine can come into contact with gluten through external sources during the winemaking process. This really is needed sometimes, I mean when you consider that ‘wine factories’ or big brands will do anything to make enough wine for the world’s population, and keep it tasting the same every single time you open a bottle.
In order to make wine you need yeast and as much as possible! It is essential and without it fermentation would not happen. In grapes there are multiple types and strains of yeasts that will start their sugar conversion at several different stages of the wines life before its consumed. It may occur immediately or potentially many years after the wine has been bottled. For conventional winemakers trying to sell the same guaranteed level of ‘perfection’ this is obviously a serious problem. So, the indigenous yeast can be removed and replaced with other non-indigenous yeasts as this is the best way to guarantee the end product, at any time.
Then there is the extras which are added as a necessity due purely to poor quality grapes which may not have the natural yeast levels required. There is a lot to be said for poor quality, but I wont!
As only one example, Brettanomyces is a natural, but not indigenous, non-spore forming genus which can spoil wine. It can be countered by the addition of sulphur dioxide depending on the grape variety. Not something you will read every day, but its possibly a legitimate excuse for the use of sulphites in winemaking! But Brett can also be added to wines of certain grape varieties on purpose, mostly for red wines, but also international white varieties like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Due to the higher level of polyphenols in red grapes, they have a higher pH level and so makes them a more hospitable environment. As Brett will play with the pH level, its function when added during winemaking will help to add depth and complexity. But do we really need a dark and smouldering Pinot Noir when we get that naturally from some grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon?
The End Result
Due to the lack of transparity with wine labelling, you may never know. But this has occurred for a reason, which I think is similar to wine which is filtered and then not vegan friendly. The common joke of 'will I find fish bones in my wine' is exactly the same as 'will I find breadcrumbs!'
Could this do any damage to your health, that really depends on the wine and your gluten intolerance level as the yeasts will at some point become alcohol and not do you any damage in that sense. I have been wondering though, is there really much need to even state gluten on the label or even write this article and again really depends on your dietary requirements.
The overall probability is that wine may well be gluten free, but again, you may never know. Organic Wine Club believes in complete transparity and our collection of wines that are Gluten Free are all made with nothing added or manipulated and have not come into contact at any stage with any potential gluten products. So why the reason for this article, well its really to do whatever we can help the wine lover make the most informed choice. Why not have a look at our range of gluten free wines and expertly created cases of organic and gluten free wines.