What is vegan wine?
Here at The Organic Cellar, we get that question a lot.
If you didn't know wine could even be vegan, don't feel bad - you're not alone!
Isn't all wine vegan?
The short answer is no.
The long answer involves delving into something called the fining process of wine.
Don't worry, we'll get to that.
What is the fining process?
See, told you we'd explain ourselves.
Young wines are usually hazy and contain tiny floating particles that are naturally occurring in the winemaking process. However, most of us expect our wines to be crystal clear and free of sediment, as it is considered more visually appealing.
Given time, most wines can self-stabilize and self-clarify to a certain degree, but winemakers have traditionally used the process of fining to speed the whole thing along. This allows them to create perfectly clear, bright wines that are free of sediment.
Fining involves adding fining agents to help improve the clarity of the liquid, precipitate out undesirable elements, or even help correct the odor, color, or flavor of a wine. These can be added to the wine at various and multiple stages in the wine's development, depending on what the winemaker is trying to correct.
Most fining agents essentially act as magnets, reacting to and drawing the suspended solids to them based on their positive or negative charge. They bind to particles of the opposite electrical charge, which then causes them to become heavy and sink to the bottom so that they can be filtered out. Others work by absorbing undesirable compounds like a sponge, and then similarly become heavy and sink to the bottom for more efficient filtering.
So what do they use as fining agents?
Ah, there's the rub.
Fining agents are composed of proteins, minerals, enzymes, or elements sourced from all sorts of weird things you've probably never associated with wine. Ready to hear some of the most commonly used fining agents?
- Casein - a protein found in milk
- Albumin - AKA egg whites
- Gelatin - protein derived from animal byproducts, usually cows or pigs
- Isinglass - protein from a fish's swim bladder
Fining agents are processing aids, not additives, as they are eventually filtered out of the wine. However, traces of the fining agents can be absorbed into the wine which makes it not suitable for vegans and occasionally some vegetarians.
What makes vegan wines different?
Vegan wines either choose not to fine and/or filter their wines, use more natural filtration processes, or use vegan-friendly fining agents.
Two of the most common vegan fining agents are bentonite (clay) and activated charcoal.
How do I know if my wine is vegan?
Unfortunately, winemakers are not required by US wine labeling laws to provide a list of ingredients on their product labels. This makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to identify a vegan wine from the bottle itself. That is unless you get lucky and find a bottle that is labeled as “vegan-friendly”, which isn’t unheard of but is still very uncommon.
Your best bet is to shop for your wine at a grocer or retailer that specializes in vegan options, as most people will only give you a confused look when you ask them for help identifying their options for vegan-friendly wines (trust us, we’ve tried).
But if you want the best, fine vegan wines, look no further.