Q: I'm allergic to vanilla. Can I still drink wines aged in oak barrels?—Sarah, Mobile, Ala.
A: Vanilla aromas or flavors are sometimes prevalent in wines aged in new oak barrels. While actual vanilla is not added to those wines, the key organic phenolic compound in vanilla, known as vanillin, is present in raw oak and often makes its way into barrel-aged wines. Finding out if a wine has been aged in oak barrels can also be tricky.
According to Dr. Ujwala Kaza, an allergist at NYU Langone Health, a vanilla allergy is a result of allergic antibodies that are produced against vanillin. "Aging in oak barrels can result in vanillin in some wines," Dr. Kaza told Wine Spectator. "However, the concentration may be very small, and the fermentation process may alter its allergic potential."
Dr. Kaza says that although the likelihood of having an allergic reaction is low, anyone with a vanilla allergy should consult their allergist before incorporating wine as part of a healthy diet.—Shawn Zylberberg