Gluten-free wine is any wine guaranteed to contain no gluten. The term might seem redundant, because grapes naturally contain no gluten. It can be an important designation, though, because gluten-containing environmental contaminants can make their way into wine. People who are on a gluten-free diet because of celiac disease or another condition cannot eat gluten and, if they want to drink wine, need to find a gluten-free variety.
Gluten is a long protein found in grains such as wheat. It is responsible for, among other things, the elasticity of different types of dough. A person who has celiac disease or another medical condition might require a gluten-free diet. The prevalence of wheat and other grains in many foods can make it difficult to adhere to this diet. When a person with celiac disease eats a gluten-containing product, it reacts with a medical disorder that affects their lower intestine and causes extreme pain, vomiting and other serious symptoms.
Wine is made from grapes, and grapes do not contain gluten. In the normal fermentation of wine using steel vats, no gluten is produced. There are instances, however, in which gluten can enter the wine undetected. Not only are the winemakers unaware of this happening, but scientific testing of the wine for the presence of gluten can be inaccurate, because the particles can break down during fermentation to an undetectable size.
Although very rare, certain environmental contaminants can make otherwise gluten-free wine dangerous to a person with celiac disease. One theory is that insects and other gluten-containing substances can be harvested with the grape crops and introduced into the production process. Another theory suggests that it is not the gluten but the sulfates in wine that are causing the adverse reactions similar to those caused by consuming gluten.
One instance that can cause gluten to appear in wine involves the barrels used in the aging process. The barrels are sometimes sealed with a water and flour paste. This paste, during fermentation, can release glutens into the wine. The amount of gluten needed to cause a reaction in a sensitive person is very small, so only a small amount of the paste would need to end up in the wine to cause a negative reaction.
For the most part, gluten-free wine is all wine, though a handful of wineries do have special labels to indicate gluten-free wine. The exact cause of why some people have negative reactions to certain wines is still scientifically unknown. It should be noted that most people with celiac disease drink wine without any adverse reactions.