In a world first, experts from the Australian wine industry and doctors at Melbourne’s Alfred hospital and Monash University supported by a grant from the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation are joining forces to investigate whether wines can cause allergies.
The study will involve both clinical and laboratory trials, and will be used by the wine industry in making decisions regarding the labelling of Australian wines.
New regulations to be introduced soon in Australia and eventually in Europe will require mandatory declaration on labels of wines, when substances that might provoke allergic reactions have been used in production.
The Australian Wine Research Institute Information Manager Creina Stockley said the Australian wine industry had chosen to carry out the study so it could fully understand the implications of the regulations, and because it had a duty of care to consumers to ensure wines were completely safe.
Ms Stockley said a number of naturally occurring substances are traditionally used in the production of wines around the world, including in Australia. These substances include egg, milk and fish proteins.
“The substances are added to wine during production to remove any excess of polyphenolic compounds and tannins (the fining process). We know that virtually none of the substances are left in the wine. However we need to be sure that if there are any traces left, they will not have a negative effect for consumers.
“We believe it is better to take a proactive approach by fully investigating this issue, rather than simply reacting to changes in regulations.”
Alfred / Monash Allergy Professor Robyn O’Hehir said while she did not believe these additives caused any allergies it was important to investigate properly so consumers could be certain of the effects of drinking wines.
“The good news is that in my 20 years as a Consultant Allergist I have never seen a patient with a true allergy to wine.
“However we know there are many people who have allergies to foods like eggs or fish and we feel its important to research properly so we can be sure there are no adverse effects to drinking wines.”
Prof. O’Hehir said the study would include extremely sensitive laboratory and clinical tests to see whether traces of milk, egg, nut or fish products in wines could affect consumers.
The laboratory component will examine the make-up of 100 different Australian wines to determine whether they contain traces of allergy inducing substances, and if so, exactly how much.
The clinical component will involve testing whether participants have allergic reactions to various wines, both through skin tests and through drinking the wines. Participants will include a group of patients who are known to be highly allergic to various substances as well as a group who do not have allergies.
“This is a very good example of an industry behaving responsibly and using independent hospital and university resources to make sure there are no allergy problems for those consumers drinking its products,” Prof. O’Hehir said.
Ms Stockley said the Australian wine industry was one of the most tightly regulated in the world in terms of the types and quantities of processing aids used in winemaking.
“Our industry follows world’s best practice in wine production, and we are leading the world in research into this issue.”
Wine Production – What is fining?
Fining is a traditional part of wine production where some tannins, for example, are removed from wine by adding a small amount of protein, such as egg white, to the wine.
These proteins bind with tannins making them sink to the bottom of the storage vessel and settle where they can be easily removed. When following best practice, virtually none of the protein is left in the wine.
A number of naturally occurring proteins have traditionally been used as fining agents in the production of wines and are still used today. These proteins include egg, milk and fish substances.
Fining generally takes place in the latter stages of winemaking.