Q: I have a friend who just found out she is allergic to oak and says she now can't drink red wine because many are made in oak barrels, but I told her that there must be some reds that are made in ceramic vats or stainless steel. I know un-oaked whites are easier to find, but what about reds? Could you provide some type of list as to which reds are un-oaked? --Mitchell, New York
A: In a previous Q&A on wine and oak allergies, senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec spoke to allergists who said that “oak allergy” typically refers to reactions to oak pollen, not oak wood. In addition, no evidence has been found that people with oak allergies—to either wood or pollen—should have difficulties drinking wine that was aged in oak barrels.
Still, if your friend wants to avoid wines aged in oak, you’re correct that suitable white wines are easier to find. Regarding indentifing reds made without oak, we reached out to Timothy Donahue, enology instructor at Walla Walla Community College, for advice. “There is no way I know of” to avoid oak in red wines, Donahue said. “There’s more products [used in winemaking] than just oak barrels, like oak tannins and adjuncts. You’ll have a hard time finding out what they’ve used.” If you’re determined, one way to go about finding wines that use alternatives, like stainless steel or concrete, is to contact wineries directly.