Whether you’re mingling at a party or settling in for a night of watching television, wine is the beverage of choice for many. Although the ingredients seem simple – grapes, yeast and a small amount of sulphites – wine isn’t always as straightforward as it seems and vegans and vegetarians need to think twice before downing a glass of vino.
Animal Products Used in The Refining Process
Much like beer, wine goes through a finishing process after being made. Agents called finings are used to remove excess proteins, yeast and sediment that occurs during the vinting process.
These agents are removed from the final product, settling at the bottom of the barrel or skimmed off. That doesn’t mean some aren’t missed, though. Unfortunately for vegetarians and vegans, many of these fining agents are derived from animal ingredients. The most common fining agent is made from proteins found in the bladders of fish. Called isinglass, there’s no way to harvest this stuff without killing the fish.
Isinglass isn’t the only fining agent made from animal products, however. Gelatin, made from the hooves and sinews of cows and other hoofed mammals, can be used to refine wine. Chitosan, a product made by treating shrimp and crustaceans, is another popular fining agent. Neither of these are vegetarian or vegan-friendly.
Albumin, a protein found in egg whites, and casein, a protein found in milk, are also used as fining agents. While these proteins are fine for vegetarians, they’re on the no-go list for vegans.
Non-Veggie Flavoring Agents
In addition to animal-based fining agents, wines can contain other non-vegan friendly ingredients. Some wines may add honey as a flavoring. If you’re a vegan, you’ll want to avoid those wines. Since honey can be harvested without harming the bee colony, vegetarians may find honey wines an acceptable choice.
There are other ingredients that make it into your wine that you won’t find on any label, including bug parts. This is a fact of life for most foods and drinks derived from natural ingredients and it’s definitely not an intentional additive. If you feel odd about the possibility of consuming a microscopic piece of spider leg that accidentally rode into the winery on a grape, you might want to steer clear of wines altogether. There’s no way to ensure a 100% lack of contamination, although winemakers do try to avoid insect contamination as much as possible.
Vegan and Vegetarian Safe Wines
You don’t have to forego wine altogether if you’ve chosen a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. More and more, vintners are offering labels proclaiming their products vegan friendly.
Unfined or unclarified wines don’t use any fining agents and are a little cloudier than their fined counterparts. But unrefined wines aren’t sought after by connoisseurs, so they generally aren’t produced in quantities as great as those that use animal-derived fining agents. As long as an unrefined wine doesn’t contain any animal-based flavorings, it’s generally considered safe to drink.
The sediment in wine, unlike beer, will often settle naturally during the creation process. These wines take more time to produce and are generally more expensive, but since this is a selling point, manufacturers often go out of their way to point out that they’ve used this process.
Vegetarian and vegan-friendly fining agents do exist. Bentonite clay and activated charcoal act similarly to isinglass and other agents, skimming off the particles that make wine cloudy. Producers will point out that these wines use veggie-safe fining agents.
Finding a Vegetarian or Vegan Wine
If you just can’t live without your glass of vino, there are lists of veggie-friendly wine options available on the Internet. A knowledgeable wine and spirits seller will be able to direct you to a selection of veggie-safe wines. Some supermarkets even offer a selection of vegan wines.
Another option is to look for “natural wine” selections and go from there. These wines, generally unrefined, have a greater chance of being animal-ingredient free. However, a “natural wine” label is no guarantee of suitability for a vegetarian or vegan, since animal-derived fining agents are found in the natural world, so do your research and ask questions.
Still another option for finding a veggie-safe wine is to buy from companies that offer detailed ingredient lists. Some vintners are opting to include their full list of ingredients on the label, especially since fining agents like albumin and casein are major allergens for a significant portion of the population.
Bottom Line: Is Wine Vegan Friendly?
Wine, in and of itself, is vegetarian- and vegan-friendly most of the time. The ingredients used in the manufacture of the wine are not. Vintners are increasingly widening their selections to offer options to the vegan and vegetarian market. You may have to do some research and ask a lot of questions to find a veggie-friendly wine for your next soirée, but they do exist. With a little bit of thought and consideration, you can have your wine AND feel good about it, too.