Q: What are the safest wines for someone who has a mild tannin allergy (rash, swollen lips)? Are there any special winegrowing or production techniques that would reduce the level of tannins in a wine? —Greg F., Bethel, Conn.
A: We referred your question to Dr. Timothy Mainardi of Hudson Allergy, who is also a consulting allergist for Memorial Sloan Kettering. Here's what he had to say: "If you truly have a reaction to tannins, then there are some reds you can still drink. How do you know if it's really tannins? If a strong cup of black tea causes similar symptoms, then it’s probably tannins, as black tea has a high level of tannins. Tannins are present to some extent in all wines—they are concentrated in grape skins—but some wines are naturally higher in tannins than others.
Red wines, which are fermented with their skins, have much higher tannin levels than white wines, and additional tannins can be imparted to wines as they age in oak barrels. With a physician's approval, unoaked white wines like Sauvignon Blancs, Pinot Grigios and Rieslings would be the first place to start for someone with tannin sensitivity. Rosés, which are made from red grapes but do not get much contact with the skins, are also much less tannic than traditional red wines. For reds, Dr. Mainardi suggests that a good rule of thumb for estimating tannin level is that the longer a wine can age, the more likely it is to have a high level of tannins (which are key components of a wine's structure and ageability). Drink-now reds that tend to be lower on the tannic spectrum include grapes like Barbera, Dolcetto, Gamay, Grenache, Pinot Noir and Valpolicella that have not received extended oak aging.