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Are U.S. Rieslings aged in oak barrels? I'm allergic to oak!

MaryAnn Worobiec, Douglas De Jesus
Posted: January 11, 2017

Q: Are U.S. Rieslings aged in oak barrels? I'm allergic to oak! —Kathy, Milford, Ohio

A: You should consult your allergist to determine whether your allergy is to oak pollen, oak wood (which is rare) or tannins. However, oak allergies are typically allergies to oak pollen, and shouldn't be triggered by wine exposed to oak barrels.

If you are in fact allergic to oak wood or tannins, it would be best to avoid wines aged in barrels or treated with oak. Unfortunately, there's no labeling law that requires wines to list whether or not the wine was aged in oak, although many do. A small percentage of wines are labeled "unoaked." (And an even smaller percentage are labeled "Inox," which also means unoaked.) Many winery websites list the winemaking techniques for each of their wines, including oak aging, and you can often download their fact sheets for the details. You're on the right track with Riesling, especially the sweeter styles. To preserve their fruitiness, these whites are not often fermented or aged in new oak barrels, though they might be fermented in older, large, "neutral" oak barrels, and some producers do make an oak-aged style. Pinot Grigios and Sauvignon Blancs, often made without oak, are a good choice as well. Reds are more likely to be oaked than whites. You'll have to research each wine to be certain.

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