Is all wine vegan?
No, despite wine being essentially alcoholic grape juice, a lot of it isn’t vegan at all (or even vegetarian). This is due to fining agents being added to speed up the clarification process. These additives can contain the following:
- Gelatine (derived from animal skin and connective tissue).
- Isinglass (derived from fish bladders).
- Albumen (egg whites).
- Casein (milk proteins).
What do the fining agents do?
The fining agents stick to small particles in the wine and make them big enough to filter out. There is much debate about whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, with some winemakers saying that this removes unwanted odours, colours and haziness, but others saying this removes flavour and texture from the wine.
Can vegans drink wine?
The short answer is yes they can, although not all wines. A lot of wines uses additives for fining to speed up the clarification process; these additives are often made from animal derivatives. As these do not need to be listed it is always best to check with the supplier.
Is all vegan wine labelled as vegan?
Unfortunately not. Wine makers do not have to include information on what fining agents they use. EU regulations only stipulate that wines fined using milk or egg products (both allergens) must be clearly labelled as explained by the Food Standards Agency.
Some retailers now label their own brand wine as vegan friendly (notably Co-op, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose), but this does not extend to all the other wines they sell.
How does vegan wine differ from other wine?
Vegan wine is exactly the same as ‘normal wine’. It is made in the same way, using the same grapes and the only difference is the fining process.
Vegan wine is either natural wine that has not been fined, or it has been fined using natural substances such as clay or charcoal instead of animal derived substances. There are a number of different fining agents that can be used which are vegan and much more natural. The most common ones are:
- Bentonite clay
- Activated charcoal
- Silica gel
- Pea gelatine
Leaving wine to clarify naturally takes longer and relies on gravity to settle the sediment at the bottom of the barrels, so that the clear wine can be carefully removed and bottled. Wine needs to be aged for a couple of years in barrels before it is clear enough to be bottled without any filtration/fining. This approach can mean the wine isn’t as clear as when fining agents are used; although you could argue this is wine in its truest state as nothing has been added.
What wines are vegan friendly?
It is hard to know for sure unless the bottle is labelled as vegan, which some of the major supermarkets have started to do. Another option is to go for natural wines, which are not fined or filtered. A lot of winemakers will proudly label their wines as unfiltered or unfined so you know it is free of animal bits. You should also look out for variants of this in other languages, for example: non-filtre (French wines), sins-filtrar (Spanish wines) or non-filtrato (Italian wines).
A word of warning though; even though natural wine is vegan, it doesn’t mean that organic and biodynamic wines are always vegan friendly. Organic and biodynamic purely refers to the way in which the grapes are grown, not the processing involved.
An excellent resource to check is to look up the wine using the following website: http://www.barnivore.com/wine (although it can be a bit US centric).
Does vegan wine taste different?
Of course not! In fact, you’ve probably drunk a lot of vegan wine without realising. Vegan wine is just like any other wine except it does not contain any animal derived substances. You will likely find good and bad examples as you would with any wine. Most people (regardless of their diet) will agree that wine without bits of animal skin and connective tissue in sounds much more appealing!