Vegan wine. At tastings I regularly get asked how can wine be vegan, it’s wine, there’s no animal in grape.
Firstly let’s get the facts out there. Most wine is not vegan. Most cheap wine is definitely not vegan. So what makes wine not Vegan?
When a wine is made it is naturally cloudy. There is nothing wrong with this at all. It’s natural. The fad for ‘natural’ wines will show you that they are cloudy. Nothing at all wrong. However, the majority of producers believe that the vast majority of consumers find this cloudiness unattractive. That people prefer crystal clear and brilliantly bright wines, so they have to take the cloudiness out of it.
The technical word for this is ‘fining’. A fining agent is added to the wine and all the impurities that are not wanted to attract each other and form a sediment that can be then extracted. That’s the very simplistic explanation of the fining process.
So what are the agents of fining and which ones make wine non-vegan? There is Gelatine, a by-product of the meat industry; Isinglass, a gelatin made from the dried swim bladders of fish, especially sturgeon; Egg-white; Casein, the main protein in cow and other animal milk; Chitin, a fiber made from crustacean shells; Bentonite, an absorbent aluminium phyllosilicate clay consisting mostly of montmorillonite, which is sometimes used in cat litter; Carbon can be used, but carefully; and finally Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP), which can also be found in anti-diarrhoea tablets!
There are other fining agents made from limestone, plant casein, silica gel, and vegetable plaques too. All fining agents have different properties and do a very effective job, but some are clearly not suitable if you are Vegan.
To make wine Vegan some Vegan-friendly wine producers use the much older method of the time. If you just let the bottle sit, still and long enough, all these particles will eventually settle to the bottom of the bottle.
The shape of the wine bottle itself with the dent in the bottom, called the punt, was specifically designed for the sediment to collect in and stay as the wine was decanted out of the bottle and into a decanter in the olden days. However, wine makers have slightly become more impatient to get their product out to market so time needed to be shortened and fining agents were used.
There are different rules in different countries stating what can be used. If an agent has been used it should be on the back label. In the EU there are rules for organic wines (google EUR 203/2012 to see them) and different countries use different logos.
The Vegan Q logo and the Sunflower Vegan logo both certify fully compliant regulations followed by Quality Vegetarian as promoted by the Italian Vegetarian Society and the Vegan Society.
The Q logo is seen below and in this vegan producer’s website, Fattoria Casabianca
So yes, wine is not always suitable for vegans due to some very interesting compounds used to create ‘fine’ wine. An informed drinker is a knowledgeable drinker, and knowledge is power