If you’re one of the millions of Canadians who suffer from food allergies, a new law will ensure you do not have to worry about potential allergens when drinking wine. Starting next year, some wines will carry a warning label with the words “Contains Eggs, Fish, or Dairy,” as well as a sulfite declaration.
The law, announced by Health Canada, the country’s department of health, is set to go into effect in the summer of 2012. It requires wines—both imported and domestic—that contain allergen-causing proteins to state the ingredients in common language. Instead of saying isinglass, albumin and casein, the labels must say fish, eggs, and dairy, respectively.
Winemakers often use these substances when fining wines as gentle clarifying agents. Particles, such as tannins, are attracted to these substances, clump together with them, then settle to the bottom of the tank or barrel with minimal loss of flavor or color. Health Canada explained in a statement that the law was created to help those dealing with serious food allergies avoid potentially threatening foods.
A sticker that reads “Contains Fish” on a bottle of wine may seem alarmist, but most bottles of wine will not need to sport the new labels. It only applies to wines where the allergens remain in the final product. If a producer removes the proteins that can cause allergic reactions, then there is no need for an allergy label.
According to Paul Bosc Jr., owner of Château des Charmes in Niagara-on-the Lake, Ontario, Health Canada has been working closely with the wine industry to develop guidance on best practices for the use of fining agents and their labeling. “Under these conditions, very few wines would require allergen labeling. If you don’t fine your wine, obviously there is no need for you to use a product like isinglass,” said Bosc. “The pool of potential wines are reduced only to wines that are fined but not filtered.”
Filtering the wine would most likely remove all proteins left over from fining, but if the winery cannot prove it, they need to use an allergy warning. Wineries can test for potential allergens in the final product, though Health Canada has not yet set an allowable limit of these allergens; if any proteins remain, the label must be applied.
But is the label really necessary? How many Canadian allergy sufferers are having reactions to wine? “Every year, the LCBO receives roughly 70,000 returns,” said Dr. George Soleas, the director of quality assurance at the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). “In the database going back 10 years, with about half a million returns, there have been none related to allergies.”
Bosc, who also serves as a chairman of the Canadian Vintners Association, believes that most producers are comfortable with this new law. “Once we understood that the intention was not to label all wines, there really was no issue.” Rather, he sees it as a cautious step in the allergy-conscious world of today. “I get what Health Canada is trying to achieve here and I kind of see it as a sign of the times. Definitely, I don’t see it as just a Canadian issue. We’re far more conscious of allergens today. We walk into restaurants and see signs for peanuts.”
A similar regulation in the United States was proposed in 2006, requiring labels on bottles of wine containing these allergens. The proposal has not been enacted into a law and allergen-labeling on wine bottles in the U.S. remains voluntary. But now U.S. producers selling in Canada will need to keep tabs on potential allergens.