Allergy sufferers may have a somewhat complicated relationship with wine. For one thing, allergies often compromise a person's sense of smell and therefore taste because of nasal congestion. As AchooAllergy.com founder P. Cade McDonald once pointed out, ‘I can't tell the difference between a 20 dollar bottle of wine and a 200 dollar bottle.’ (Jury's still out as to whether this is a good or bad thing.) For more information on the connection between allergies and how you taste things, see Allergies and Your Sense of Smell.
Some, though, are actually allergic to the wine itself. Around 500 million people worldwide suffer from headaches, stuffy noses, skin rashes, and other allergy symptoms when they drink wine, according to Science Daily's article Low Allergenic Wines Could Stifle Sniffles and Sneezes in Millions of Wine Drinkers. Of these, only one percent are allergic to sulfites.
Recent research has uncovered information about the offending culprit in the rest of the cases: glycoproteins, proteins coated with sugars that are produced naturally as grapes ferment. While glycoproteins were suspected, not much was known about their structure and function. In analysis of Italian Chardonnay, 28 glycoproteins were uncovered. Interestingly, ‘scientists found that many of the grape glycoproteins had structures similar to known allergens, including proteins that trigger allergic reactions to ragweed and latex. The discovery opens to door to development of wine-making processes that minimize formation of the culprit glycoproteins and offer consumers low-allergenic wines.’
In the ever-evolving quest to combat allergies, many treatments are aimed at the allergic individual, helping desensitize them to allergens, or minimizing their exposure to allergens, for example. However, low-allergenic wines offer a solution from another angle by reducing allergic symptoms through altering the offending substance itself.