A Silver Lining to the Allergens Scare


The ever-dilligent neoprohibitionists' toxic scare-of-the-month is the attempt to utilize the Food Allergen and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 to require all wines for which protein fining agents have been employed during processing -- egg white, isinglass (a product of the sturgeon fish) or casein from milk -- to carry a warning label, despite the fact that no study exists linking these practices to any human health detriment. In its current manifestation before FDA, no criteria for residual levels are specified and the burden is on the winery to prove no danger exists. Here we go again.

However the legal issues eventually sort out, a possible silver lining I can see is that winemakers might begin to rethink the outmoded technique of protein fining. Skill in the vineyard and the cellar can turn those excessive tannins into the building blocks of a proper structure for rich, refined mouthfeel and increased aromatic integration.

I haven’t used a protein fining agent in ten years. Randall Grahm quips, “My mantra is: I will fear no tannin.” Patrick Ducournau taught us both what the Aztecs taught the Belgians: how to turn the nasty into the profound, whether it’s turning cocoa into chocolate or raw cabernet into a romantic evening’s soulful treat.

If you buy a piece of land that’s full of rocks, you can hire some guys to haul them away. But if you’re a stonemason, you build a house. As winemakers learn what proper ripeness is and how to employ tools like micro-oxygenation to properly refine their tannins, these supposed allergens will become a non-issue.