Vegan Wine: what’s important to know
Is vegan wine a new thing?
Whether our customers are vegan or not, a question we are often asked is what makes a wine vegan? We thought it would be helpful to lay out why only some of our wines get the vegan label. And while this mention will reassure some, others might be surprised or curious to know what vegan wine is.
It’s quite common to open up a bottle of wine and start drinking it without reading the back label. One might read it after a few sips to learn more about what’s in the glass. However, for vegans, labels, whether food or wine, are carefully read beforehand. So, you might wonder, how could wine not be vegan? Is it, not just fermented grape juice? Well, not quite. In fact, more often than not, the process of winemaking often relies on animal products.
What does wine have to do with animal products?
During the winemaking process, after the grapes have been crushed and fermented, there is sediment in the wine (known as colloids), which not only can cause harmful bacteria that might spoil the wine but may also affect the clarity. A fining agent can be used to prevent this. These are usually made up of animal-derived proteins, which means the wine can’t be marketed as vegan. Although this may seem a strange addition to the process, the protein binds to the heavy sediment in the wine, which then falls to the bottom of the tank and can be filtered out. Voila, sparkly clean and clear wine!
There are many different types of fining agents, some of which have been used for up to 2,000 years. Common fining agents include gelatine, isinglass (fish bladder), egg whites, casein (milk powder), bentonite (volcanic ash) and carbon. The use of non-animal-derived agents has risen in recent times as people increasingly choose vegan products.
In addition, winemakers are not obligated to mention this practice on their labels. So, if you’re vegan or vegetarian, it might be difficult to know if the bottle you want to order at your favourite restaurant or buy in your local wine shop has been fined with animal-based products.
Is there a way to avoid filtering?
An alternative is to have unfiltered wines, which can be labelled as vegan. Natural wines are produced with minimal intervention and do not go through a filtering or fining process. The wines have a sediment that collects at the base of the bottle, which doesn’t affect the wine and can add a strong autolytic flavour (yeasty/bready/cider-like). It is worth mentioning that this is an acquired taste, it has seen a surge in popularity in recent years, particularly in its ability to pair with complex food dishes.
It’s important to bear in mind that there is a wide spectrum of what is considered vegan. For example, natural wines and wines that state no filtration will avoid this stage of using fining agents. However, there may be other uses in a vineyard or winery that may not be entirely vegan-friendly, such as using animal product fertilisers which one should be aware of.
How can wine be vegan?
The good news for vegans and vegetarians alike though is that a vegan/vegetarian-friendly alternative exists in the form of bentonite, a clay derivative. We’re now seeing a heavy pour in the right direction in regards to providing plant-based alternatives. There are a growing variety of winemakers who are actively seeking to produce vegan-friendly wines that taste brilliantly!
You’ll see many of our wines are vegan-friendly (or vegan wine) and this stems from our focus on finding winemakers and producers who live and breathe the idea of sustainability in wine. If you would like to know more about the winemaking process, feel free to get in touch with us. If you’re looking for vegan wine, we have some lovely suggestions to try. Here are some of our favourites!