Why Not All Wines Are Vegan - or Even Vegetarian!
Defining a vegan or vegetarian wine is surprisingly simple. It's a wine made without the use of any animal-derived products during the brewing process.
It all starts in the tanks or barrels, during a process known as 'fining’. During fining, wine is corrected or stabilized, to remove cloudiness and sediment particles, get rid of yeast, and to enhance color and soften tannins. These elements are later filtered out to deliver a clear wine with smoother tannins.
Animal-derived products are often put to work at this stage, to act as processing aids to speed up the fining time. These procession aids are used to help bind the unwanted elements which are later filtered out. Think of it as a magnet attracting all of the undesirable components around it. Then, when it’s thickened around the fining agent, the now larger mass of particles can be removed easily.
Products like egg white (albumin) are often used in red wine production, and gelatin and milk protein (casein) are used in white wine production. Egg white and milk protein may be suitable for vegetarians, but gelatin, which contains animal cartilage, is not an ingredient any vegetarian would want to consume.
So Wine Contains Animal Products?
Animal products aren’t added to wine as an ingredient per se, and you won't see it listed on the label. Once fining is complete, these 'fining' and processing aids are removed. It's very likely, however, that the wine may now contain tiny particles of these animal-derived products and can not be classified as vegan, or in some cases, vegetarian.
In addition to adding egg white, milk protein, and gelatin, which are most commonly used as binding agents, some other elements could also be added. These are the shells of crustaceans (chitosan) or fish membranes and bladders (isinglass), a form of collagen, or fish oils which are used to give wine clarity.
To completely clarify the use of animal products in the production of wine, you should pay attention to the full process. Start at the soil, consider the absolute beginning of the wine journey, and don't only scrutinize the contents of the bottle. The farming and bottling process should also be reviewed to define a bottle of wine as genuinely vegan.
Fertilizers are often made using animal-derived ingredients like bone meal or fish waste. Animal manure mixed with straw is sometimes used as compost in an attempt to use farming by-products. Authentic vegan wine should use organic methods and only plant-based and natural fertilizers.
When it comes to bottling, beeswax and milk-based glue may be used to seal bottles or applied during the corking process. Using these products would make a wine vegetarian, but not vegan.
How Is Vegan Wine Made?
Vegan and vegetarian wine processes and techniques involve using plant-based or mineral alternatives instead of animal-derived 'additions'. Additions are used carefully as the products are not added to the wine; they’re just used in the winemaking process. An important note to add is that organic wines aren’t necessarily vegan. The ultimate find would be an organic vegan wine!
A real vegan winemaking process would make use of all-natural or mineral-based ingredients. Expect to find elements like bentonite clay, plant or vegetable-based products like plant casein, or activated charcoal used in the process.
Using time and letting nature take its course is also a good solution. Wine does indeed have the ability to self clarify. In this process, the wine is left over a much more extended period to naturally mature, and no fining takes place. Over time the residual elements drop and sink to the bottom naturally as sediments.
The process is considerably slower and not ideal in a commercial wine production environment. In this instance, wines will be labeled as unfiltered, or un-fined. It's entirely natural and not at all harmful, just a much slower process. Vintage wines are some examples that were allowed to self-stabilize or self-fine without the addition of fining agents.
Top Vegan Wine Labels
Searching for the best vegan wine? Look no further. More and more wineries and winemakers are becoming aware of the increased demand for vegan alternatives. Whether you are looking for red vegan wine, vegan white wine, or some renowned vegan red wine brands, you’ll be able to find an option. There are even options for cheap vegan wine and vegan boxed wine.
Here are the top picks from vegan labels across the globe.
Petit Chablis, Chablis, Burgundy 2017 - France
Medium-bodied and unoaked, this is 100% Chardonnay. The Petit Chablis label dates back to 1944 and is used for dry whites made from Chardonnay.
Gavi di Gavi, 2018 - Italy
This option is medium-bodied with a creamy almond finish. 100% Cortese. Made from vines averaging 35 years old, under the Gavi di Gavi label.
Orange Natural Wine, 2017 - Romania
Medium-bodied consisting of 85% Chardonnay and 15% Sauvignon Blanc. This white wine is bone dry and exceptionally well priced as an entry point to this varietal.
Alain Graillot, Encinas, Bierzo, 2016 - Spain
An elegant dry red wine from the Bierzo region. It’s made from Mencía grapes varietals, offering a rustic and earthy palate.
Bosman Family Vineyards, Generation VIII Cabernet-Merlot, 2019 - South Africa
A vibrant and full-bodied red blend. 77% Cabernet and 23% Malbec from the Wellington region located in the Western Cape wine lands of South Africa.
Domaine Bousquet Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2018, Argentina
A rich Cabernet from Mendoza in the Tupungato sub-region. Made with organic grapes, it offers black fruit notes like blackberry, black currant, cherry, and raisins.