If I'm allergic to citrus fruits, can I drink a wine with citrus flavors?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I would love to try wine, but I'm allergic to some citrus, stone and tropical fruits, and I frequently read that wines can have flavors and aromas of grapefruit, lemon, peaches, etc., all of which I can't eat. I can have grapes and berries, but I'm not sure what else is in wine?

—Kel, Texas

Dear Kel,

I'm sorry for your restrictive allergies. There's a two-part answer to this question. First, wine is made from grapes, and even though a wine might be described as tasting like lemon, grapefruit or peach, it’s not actually made from those things, just as the coffee I buy isn’t really made from graham crackers and chocolate-covered cherries. (There are, however, such things as "fruit wines," which are made from fruits other than grapes, and those are typically labeled with the fruit they are made from, i.e. "plum wine" or "elderberry wine.")

All those fruit flavors and aromas mentioned in a tasting note are part of a vocabulary that wine lovers have created as a way to describe wine. There’s also a scientific explanation as to why things taste similar—chemical flavor and aroma compounds that are released by fermentation may be found in other food items (but won’t include your allergens).

The second part of this answer is that, along with those "fruit wines," you need to also be aware of what are called “wine products.” Wine products are a mix of wine with other ingredients, including water, sugar, carbon dioxide and sometimes juice flavorings, which may cause you problems. They’re inexpensive, sweet, colorful and sugary, often served chilled and typically have about half the alcohol content of real wine. Think of the relationship of wine to wine products as the same between cheese and cheese products. If you’re not sure if you’re holding a wine or a wine product, look for the fine print—"wine products" must be identified as such on the bottle.

But the safest bet is for you to talk to your real doctor about exploring wine: Make sure it’s a healthy addition to your diet. Fingers crossed, and good luck!

—Dr. Vinny

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