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Vegan vs Non-Vegan Wines: A Deep Dive

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

Wine, with its rich history, cultural significance, and ability to bring warmth to occasions, has long been cherished by many. However, as our global community becomes increasingly conscious about dietary choices, sustainability, and animal welfare, the question arises: Is your wine vegan? It may be surprising for some to learn that not all wines are vegan or even vegetarian. But what differentiates vegan wines from their non-vegan counterparts? Let’s get into it!

Vegan Wine Symbol. Vinissimus

Before we dive into the specifics, it's essential to understand the general process of wine-making. Grapes are harvested, crushed, and fermented. Yeast consumes the sugar in these crushed grapes, converting it into alcohol. This process sounds straightforward and inherently vegan, right? It's the subsequent steps – specifically, the 'fining' process – where the distinction between vegan and non-vegan wines becomes apparent.

Once the initial fermentation has occurred, wines can be pretty cloudy due to microscopic molecules such as proteins, tannins, and phenolics. While these aren't harmful, many winemakers believe they can alter the wine's aroma, taste, and appearance.

That's where the 'fining' agents come in. They act like a magnet, attracting the molecules and making them big enough to be removed. Over time, the particles either sink to the bottom or rise to the top, depending on their weight, and can be easily filtered out. While most of these fining agents are removed from the finished product, trace amounts may remain.

Historically, and still prevalent today, many of the commonly used fining agents are animal-derived. Here are a few:

  • Isinglass: Derived from the swim bladders of fish, isinglass has been used for centuries as a fining agent. It's especially common in British beers but can be found in many wines worldwide.

  • Gelatin: Similar to the product used in many gummy candies, gelatin is derived from boiling the skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of cows or pigs.

  • Casein: A milk protein, casein is often used in winemaking, making those wines unsuitable for vegans and potentially some lactose-intolerant individuals.

  • Albumin: This is derived from egg whites and is commonly used in red wine production.

How vegan is your wine illustration

Fining Agents for Non-Vegan Wines. Yes Baby I Like It Raw.

As the demand for vegan-friendly wines has risen, so has the use of alternative, plant-based, or mineral-derived fining agents. Some popular vegan-friendly agents include:

  • Bentonite: A type of clay with excellent protein-absorbing properties.

  • Activated Charcoal: Used occasionally to remove certain off-putting aromas or colours.

  • Plant Casein: A plant protein that functions similarly to its animal-derived counterpart.

  • Silica Gel: Helps remove unwanted proteins and can be used with bentonite.

It's worth noting that many winemakers, both for vegan and non-vegan wines, are opting to bypass the fining process altogether. They believe these particles can contribute to the wine's body, aroma, and overall character. These wines might be slightly cloudy but are packed with flavours and character. If a wine is labelled as "unfined" or "unfiltered," it is likely vegan, but it's always good to double-check.

For those committed to ensuring their wines align with their dietary preferences, here's some good news: more winemakers are labelling their wines to clarify their vegan status. You can look for labels that specifically state "vegan-friendly" or "made with no animal-derived products."

Vegania vegan red wine

Vegania Red Vegan Wine. Enoitalia.

There are also numerous online directories and apps dedicated to cataloguing vegan wines. Moreover, engaging with wine merchants or sommeliers can be informative; they often have insights into the winemaking process of products they stock or serve.

The journey from grape to glass is fascinating, filled with decisions that can influence a wine's character, flavour profile, and, as we've discovered, its vegan status. While the primary ingredients of wine are simple - grapes, yeast, and sometimes sulfites for preservation - the fining process can introduce non-vegan elements to your bottle.

For vegans, vegetarians, or those just curious about what goes into their wine, the rise in labelled vegan wines and increasing transparency in the industry is a welcome trend.

Whether you opt for a vegan wine or not, understanding the intricacies of its production allows for a deeper appreciation of the craft and the choices available. So, the next time you raise a glass, you'll have a richer understanding of what's inside.


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