Over the festive season no doubt many of you will have consumed a few bottles of wine, but did you check the label for allergens? One wine label that I always avoid has been Echo Falls and this Christmas finally I spotted on their label the ingredient milk. Halleluia! Finally, an answer to why that particular wine brings me up in a rash, and proof for the mother-in-law that I’m not just being fussy about yet another thing.
Echo Falls Merlot 75cl contains Egg, Lactose, Milk, Sulphites
However it still seems to be very rare that a bottle of your favourite vino contains anything more than a passing reference to the ever present sulphites.
So how do you find out which wines really contain milk and other allergens and chemicals and why are the majority of wine and beer manufacturers still not labelling their products with the full list of ingredients they contain?
The Co-operative Group have been labelling their wine with all the allergens now for some time and I really applaud them for that.
Thank you Co-op and Echo Falls!
I have seen a few other companies following suit, but generally it’s very rare to find detailed information about the ingredients.
I received a very interesting reply from Geraldine Newcommen from the Food Allergy Branch of the Food Standards Agency.
“As you may be aware, food allergen labelling legislation requires that where specified allergenic foods or their derivatives are used as ingredients in pre-packed foods -whatever the level of inclusion, – the relevant allergenic food has to be clearly indicated on the labelling. The legislation established a list of 14 foods: cereals containing gluten (wheat, rye, barley, oats), crustaceans, eggs, fish, molluscs, peanuts, nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, cashews, pistachios, brazil nuts), lupin, soybeans, milk, celery, mustard, sesame, and sulphur dioxide at levels above 10mg/kg or 10 mg/litre expressed as SO2. So if milk or milk derived ingredients are used in food or drinks, then these ingredients must be clearly indicated on the label. Usually, they are mentioned in the ingredients list but in the case of products that do not have an ingredients list such as wine, this is by use of a “Contains X” statement. It must be clear to the consumer that the ingredient is “milk derived.”
Milk is not usually used as an ingredient in wine, though it may be added to some beers. It is more usually used as a fining agent. The European Commission published Directive 2007/68/EC which lays down exemptions from the allergen legislation. At present, milk derived fining agents are exempt, so they do not need to be named on labelling until 30th June 2012, but this situation is under review. Although milk-derived fining agents need not be named on wine labels, some manufacturers may choose to mention milk on the labelling, but others may not, since it is not a legal requirement.
The usual milk fining agent is casein, (a protein) which tends to be used in white wine rather than red. But fining agents are used to remove protein residues in wine, and are usually then filtered out or other methods are used to remove the precipitate, so the residues of casein would be very low.
With regard to the issue of “dairy free” wines, there is no legal definition of the term “dairy free” but current labelling legislation does not allow the use of false and misleading terms in general on food labels, so foods described as “dairy free” would not be expected to contain milk ingredients. You might wish to contact the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), which would be able to give further advice on legislation about wine making. You can call them on their helpline – 08459 33 55 77 – or email them on firstname.lastname@example.org
I hope this information is helpful for you.”
This information from the Food Standards Agency is interesting but it still leaves the subject of milk derived fining agents in wine very much undecided. The response indicates that the situation is ‘under review’ and that manufacturers ‘may choose to mention milk’ – it’s quite clear that most choose not to bother.
And I agree that the levels are fairly low and in my experience this has never lead to an anaphylactic reaction, but it does cause a mild skin rash – I say mild, most people would be running for the doctor. It’s not nice, it’s itchy, painful and unsightly but is usually cleared up within a day or so and whilst it is not life threatening it’s still very unpleasant.
All I am asking is that wine manufacturers and supermarkets label their alcoholic beverages with ALL the allergen ingredients they contain, and while we’re about it, also the other ingredients. Are you ashamed to admit what’s in your wine? Most people would assume that wine contains just grapes, a bit of water, yeast and sugar perhaps? Well you’d be wrong. Some wines can contain as many as 15 different constituents including chemicals and fining agents. Wine makers out there – If you’re ashamed of the chemicals you add to your wine then you shouldn’t be adding them.
Why should wine and beer makers get away with adding whatever they want to their products without having to declare it? Food manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies have to declare a list of ingredients with allergens clearly marked.
Come on beer and wine people – we are not stupid! We just want to have the information that will help us stay rash and eczema free. Not much to ask. And for your information, until you do label properly I am steering clear or all wines unless they are labelled by a company I trust.
I find that sticking to Bio-dynamic and organic wines that I’m usually safe. There are a few sulphite free wines too including SoLo.
Now where is my nearest Co-op?
This article from Living Without entitled, “Hidden additives in beer and wine” gives a very good overview of what you might expect to find in your wine, and I don’t mean grapes.