Is Wine Vegan?

Not all wine is created equal. In fact, the processing of most commercial wines uses egg, milk and even animal flesh products that would be considered non-vegetarian!

It is not in the growing or the fermentation of the grapes that we would find these products, but in a specific part of the wine’s processing, called ‘fining.’

What is fining and how does it involve fish guts?

Fining is a process of filtration which helps achieve a clearer looking wine. Filtration removes particles from the wine, which are completely harmless in themselves, but are considered to have an undesirable effect of making the wine appear cloudy.

fish guts
Who thinks of fish guts as part of a wine filtration process? Image: Shutterstock.

In the fining process most wine manufacturers use either casein, a protein from milk; albumin, found in egg whites; or isinglass, a fish bladder protein and gelatin, as filtration agents. These substances bind to the cloudy particles in the wine such as tartrates and tannins and are removed in the process of filtration.

So if the animal ingredients are filtered out, is wine vegan?

This question may not be as straightforward as you might think. Just like many vegans choose to consume sugar, even though it is processed using animals’ bone char, many vegans also choose to consume wine and other alcoholic drinks which processing may or may not be vegan.

In many ways, the answer to whether you consider all wines vegan depends on where you draw your line. While some vegans may glance at the ingredients list and decide to consume it as long as it does not contain any animal products, others may look into the manufacturing process and make their decisions based on the manufacturing method as well. Needless to say that the latter can obviously present a slippery slope as there are countless factors to consider when looking beyond ingredients, and the information may not always be attained easily.

Where can we find vegan wine that has not been filtered using animal based ingredients?

is wine vegan
For most cases, a wine should be vegan if it is unfiltered. However, determining this fact is not that straightforward! Image: Shutterstock.

For most cases, a wine should be vegan if it is unfiltered. However, determining this fact is not that straightforward! On many occasions I’ve asked whether a wine is vegan in establishments such as bars and restaurants only to be met with many a puzzled expression!

Looking for a vegan wine in most supermarket aisles can be like looking for a needle in a haystack, but many supermarkets now have allergy information labelled on their wines, which will inform you if they use any egg and milk for clarification – although, unsurprisingly, you won’t find any fish guts on the labels! If you’re very lucky you’ll find one or two bottles labelled vegan.

It’s a different story in specialised wine shops, whose products usually aren’t labelled, or if they are, it’s often indistinguishable, due to the international selection of imported wine available nowadays. However, most quality wine merchants are familiar with the whys and wherefores of vegan winemaking and will be able to point you in the right direction towards an unfiltered wine, but in my experience they often only stock one or two vegan wines.

future of wine
The future of wine is vegan! Image: Shutterstock. Modification: TVW.

The Future of wine is Vegan

Many winemakers are now using bentonite clay and activated charcoal as filtration agents rather than animal-derived ingredients and some manufacturers are dismissing the filtration process altogether, in favour of allowing the process of clarification to occur naturally.  Either way, it seems the availability of vegan wine is steadily on the rise!

Some advice for the vegan wine-lover

If you are a vegan wine-lover, get to know some vegan brands: In the UK some supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s have their own range of vegan wines, for example; Sainsbury’s Organic range, which includes tasty vegan varieties of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Grigio.

Alternatively, there are a growing number of online vegan directories such as:

Barnivore (International)

Vegan Wines Online (UK)

Vegan South Africa

It is also important to take responsibility and create the reality we desire:

Let establishments and wine merchants know that vegan wine is in demand. The more demand we create for vegan wine the more chances this message will reach suppliers.

When met with confusion, or indignation that “All wine is vegan because it’s made from grapes, right?” Explain to the wine merchant, waiter or bar server that you’re looking for a wine that is unfiltered and that the filtering process of wine often uses animal-derived ingredients.

To avoid frustration on nights out, you could also consider trying to order your vegan wine online or phone in advance to the bar or restaurant you may be visiting.

Here’s to hoping all wine will soon be vegan. Bottoms up!

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