When you eschew all animal products from your diet, finding a vegan wine can seem challenging. While wine is essentially fermented grape juice, when “fining” agents are used, it can introduce milk, egg white, and animal proteins into the wine. Let’s learn more about the fining process and how you can be sure your next glass meets your dietary and lifestyle needs.
All wines have proteins, tannins, tartrates, phenolics, and other tiny molecules. These are natural and pose absolutely no threat – they do, however, create a hazy appearance in young wines. Because we tend to want clear, bright wine, producers speed the clarification, or fining, process by using certain agents. These act as a magnet, attracting the molecules so they can be easily removed. The agents are largely precipitated out, but traces can remain in the wine.
Fining agents include gelatin (an animal protein), albumin (egg whites), casein (a milke protein), and isinglass (fish bladder protein). So some wines are not vegan; some aren’t even “vegetarian”!
Many winemakers acknowledge that vegan wine options are important to millions of people. They use agents like bentonite (clay-based) and activated charcoal. Some winemakers also just allow the wine to mature and go through the process of clarifying and stabilizing unaided. (They will typically have a label that reads “not fined and/or not filtered”.)
It can be difficult to determine if you’re buying a vegan wine, however, because labels typically do not indicate which fining agents were used or if it is suitable for those who follow a vegan diet. So how do you know what you’re purchasing and drinking?
Look for organic wine brands and those that specialize in natural varietals. They are more likely to be vegan and/or to list ingredients either on the label or their website. It is a good idea to have a list of go-to brands. Natura, for example, offers vegan wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay. They are also made with organically grown grapes, which is a bonus for those who want a clean, sustainable pour.
Do not assume all wine is vegan wine. Be sure to check before you purchase!