The European Union might want to ban wine in which hen’s eggs or dairy products have been used, as some people can be allergic to these products. Alternatively the new law might just insist on labelling the wine as containing these products. The prevalence of allergic reactions to milk and egg products has been reported to be 1% of the adult population. Clinical trials have been inconclusive, and although wine has no history of causing allergic reactions as a result of the protein fining agents used, the possibility still exists.

Eggnog is a traditional drink at Christmas in the USA, and was developed in Europe by combining eggs and alcoholic drinks to let the eggs last longer. The drink was apparently first called “egg-and-grog”, and it has been known to cause allergic reactions in individuals. This seems to be the basis of the fear of egg allergens in wine.

Although HACCP is widely practised in the winemaking industry, almost all of the CCPs (critical control points) have a quality influence. There is only one commonly established real CCP and that is at bottling, to prevent glass from entering the bottles which could be harmful to people who swallow it. Another critical control point was once established to be grapes infected by Ochratoxin A, which is formed by moulds on grapes, but that is not very common.

The allergen law requires wine that contain these products to be labelled, but if there are no residues, who will be the wiser? The naughty compounds in eggs are the proteins that can easily be removed, although milk might leave residues of lactose. The ELISA tests that are used to test for residues cannot test down to zero, but the limits of detection have been found to be good enough to establish risk. There are also people with the view that if a product has been used, if it is still present or not, it must be stated.

There have been companies peddling plant alternative proteins that can apparently perform the same tasks as egg and milk proteins, but I have not had the pleasure to test these.

The new allergen labelling laws were originally intended to be implemented in 2005, but the deadline has now been extended to 30 June 2012, to assess possible exemption of these products. Let’s see what happens.

Louis Nel is the owner and winemaker of Louis wines in South Africa.