As you’re probably aware, wine is made with fermented grapes which means that it should be vegan-friendly right? Wrong. It’s a common misconception that all wine is vegan wine but like many things, it does contain a trace amount of animal byproduct.
At least, some of them do. There are plenty of vegan wines on the market that don’t use any sort of animal product. The problem you may come across is finding them.
It’s not something that’s easy to get in your local grocery store. Check out this guide to learn more about what makes wine not vegan and how to get your hands on a bottle that doesn’t use animal byproduct.
Why Aren't All Wines Vegan or Vegetarian?
As you know, wines are made with fermented grapes. Yeast is introduced to the fruit juice in order to convert the sugars into alcohol. The entire process is pretty vegan-friendly up until you get to the fining part.
Before the fining process, all wine contains molecules of tannins, proteins, tartrates, and phenolics. All of these things are completely natural and won't hurt you but they make the wine look a little cloudy and, in some cases, give the final product a bitter taste.
To clear things up, producers add fining agents into the mix. Most wines will stabilize if you leave them alone long enough but these agents speed up the process by a lot. The type of agent used is what makes wine not vegan.
Fining Agents that Aren't Vegan Safe
Most fining agents contain animal byproduct of some kind which makes them neither vegan or vegetarian. Some wines are vegetarian but not vegan. Here are a few agents you should be staying away from.
Stirring Egg whites into wine is the most old-fashioned method of fining around. It's used often in the creation of Cabernet Sauvignon to get rid of the heavy amount of tannin.
Tannins have a negative ion charge while egg whites have a positive one. It's for this reason that tannins attach themselves to the egg whites and sink. The result is a clear, vegetarian wine but it's not vegan.
Casein is the main protein found in milk. It's also a popular fining agent found in white wines. Skim milk is often used in Sauvignon Blancs to give it that iconic clear color.
Casein can remove any impurities in the wine and reduces the number of phenolic compounds that give it a bitter after taste. The use of casein makes the wine vegetarian but not vegan.
Gelatin is a protein that comes from animal bones and hides. It can be used as a fining agent for both red and white wines. It gets rid of tannins, makes red wine suppler, and gives white wine a brighter color.
Gelatin is often added to red wine to reduce the bitter aftertaste. Wines that use this fining method are neither vegetarian or vegan safe.
Isinglass is a fining agent that's found in the swim bladders of fish and sturgeon. It's good for removing impurities in white wine and gives it a beautiful clarity but as you can imagine, it's not vegetarian or vegan safe.
Chitosan is a carbohydrate that exists in shells of all crustaceans. Since it has a positive ionic charge, it can be used to get rid of phenols. It can also fade excess color in white wines.
If racked and settled the right way, drinking wine that contains chitosan shouldn't harm you if you have a shellfish allergy but caution should still be advised. The use of chitosan makes the resulting wine neither vegetarian or vegan.
Are There Any Vegan Safe Agents?
With the long list of fining agents that aren't vegan, it can be hard to believe that there are any at all. Poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone and Bentonite are two that are safe for vegans.
Poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone or PVPP is a man-made plastic that can be used in wines to absorb phenols and colors. it's vegetarian, vegan, and safe to use.
PVPP also gives rosé the elegantly pale color that it's known for and can get rid of the bitterness that comes hand in hand with some red wines.
Bentonite is purified clay that is used as a fining agent. It has a negative charge that causes it to bind to proteins in both white and rosé wines to clear up cloudiness.
On top of removing cloudiness, bentonite can get rid of any off-flavors or aromas in the wine. It's not used as much in red wines because of its tendency to fade the color. Bentonite is both vegetarian and vegan.
How do You Tell?
As stated before, it can be hard to find vegan wine. Most of the ones that are sold in stores use gelatin, casein, and other non-vegan friendly products. So, the question is how can you get it or at least tell the difference?
The first step is to check the label. If it contains any of the animal-based products we've mentioned then it's not vegan. If you're buying online, you can ask the producer if it's vegan beforehand.
Navigating the World of Vegan Wine
Contrary to popular belief, not all wine is a vegan wine. A lot of producers use animal-based products in the fining process that causes the ending product to be neither vegetarian or vegan safe.
It can be hard to find wine in stores that don't contain an animal byproduct of some kind. You may have to resort to shopping online.
Our rosé, white, and red Smartvine wine are all vegan safe. Go to our store to check out our selection.