Since eggs are sometimes used in winemaking, are people with egg allergies at risk?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Someone I know suffers from a serious allergy to eggs. Knowing that eggs are sometimes used in the making of wine, is there a risk of finding egg traces in the wine?

—Damien, Namur, Belgium

Dear Damien,

Maybe. Some common allergens—like eggs, dairy and even fish—are used in the production of wine. Very little if any of these substances remain in the finished wines, but current technology can’t detect the presence of some allergens at sufficiently low levels to assure the safety of highly allergic individuals, and some allergy sufferers insist that wines can indeed cause serious reactions. There’s a debate going on in the United States whether or not wine labeling laws should require vintners to list these allergens if they are used, but so far the necessity hasn’t been determined, and listing allergens is voluntary.

Are vintners putting scrambled eggs in your wine? Not exactly. Before a wine is bottled, a winemaker might want to remove excess tannins or solids in a process called “fining.” The proteins in egg whites, milk, fish bladders, seaweed or volcanic clay are known to attract and bind to these tannins or solids, which then clump together and fall out of suspension to the bottom of a barrel or tank. Then the wine is then typically “racked,” or moved to another container, leaving behind the sediment and fining agent.

If you’re vegan or suffer from severe egg, milk or fish allergies, I wouldn’t blame you for avoiding these wines altogether, even if there’s currently no significant evidence that the fining agents remain.

—Dr. Vinny

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