Glycoproteins: The Real Reason for Wine Allergies?

maywine.jpgWe had guests over the other night so, of course, we uncorked a few bottles of wine from our cellar (a small closet underneath the staircase).

One gentleman passed, saying that drinking wine gave him a headache, and a friend had told him it was because of sulfites in the wine. Some people avoid drinking wine altogether because they experience allergy-like symptoms when they do.

For many years, the main culprit was thought to be sulfites, which are sulfur-containing substances that occur naturally in the wine and that some vintners add as a means of preventing spoilage.

But it turns out that of the 8 percent of people who experience wine-related allergy symptoms, only one in eight of those folks is reacting to sulfur.

Then what’s the real main culprit?

Sify reported on the findings of Giuseppe Palmisano and his colleagues, which suggest that it may be glycoproteins.

So what are glycoproteins? They are proteins coasted with sugars that are produced naturally during the fermentation process.

In a bottle of Italian Chardonnay, Palmisano & Co. uncovered a total of 28 glycoproteins, some of which had never been identified before. It turns out that several of them have structures that are similar to known allergens — including proteins that trigger allergic reactions to ragweed and latex.

The hope is that by pinpointing the main cause of allergic reactions among wine drinkers, new processes could be developed to minimize the formation of glycoproteins when making wine.

And that would open the door to wine enjoyment to literally millions of people — including our guest, who had to pass on a couple of really nice selections.

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One comment on “Glycoproteins: The Real Reason for Wine Allergies?
  1. Bob Henry says:

    Excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle “Food & Wine” Section
    (August 22, 2008, Page D1ff):

    “Reconsidering sulfites;
    Progressive vintners weigh the pros and cons of the controversial winemaking tool.”


    By Wolfgang M. Weber
    Special to The Chronicle

    “There are several widespread myths about sulfur dioxide — and sulfites in general. Here are some explanations that should help you to finally avoid that headache in the morning:

    “Sulfites in red wine cause headaches. While it’s true that exposure to high levels of SO2 is an unpleasant experience, there’s no hard evidence that proves sulfites and SO2 cause migraines in red wine drinkers. A phenomenon often called “red wine headache” is a combination of several things, with histamines considered one likely major factor. High levels of alcohol and residual sugar are also far more likely culprits than sulfites. When it comes to the negative effects of sulfites, asthmatics are the most vulnerable and need to closely monitor their intake of sulfites — or avoid them altogether. It’s worth noting though, that many foods — dried fruit, for instance — contain higher levels of sulfites than wine. Allergic reactions to sulfites include far more severe symptoms than headaches, like hives and anaphylactic shock.

    “Red wines contain more sulfites than white wines. The higher levels of tannin in red wines mean winemakers use less total SO2 in red wines than in whites. Sulfur dioxide is sometimes used to halt fermentation for wines that will be sweet, including many German Rieslings. Dessert wines, because of their high levels of residual sugar, have even greater levels of added sulfur.”

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