What exactly is vegan wine? Isn’t all wine vegan? And if not, how come? Isn’t wine just fermented grape juice? Does any winemaker make vegan wine? Whoa! Many questions for sure.
Let’s start at the top. Why isn’t wine vegan if it’s only made from grapes? Wine is made from grapes and yeasts, either naturally on the fruit or cultured then goes to work to create the magic that is wine – that is, converting the sugars from the pressed grape juice into alcohol. So far, so good. Sounds like it’s vegan to this point.
So, why isn’t all wine vegan?
The non-vegetarian/vegan secret is in the next process of the winemaking. New wines are not actually crystal clear but are limpid or hazy because the liquid contains minuscule molecules such as tannins, tartrates, proteins and phenolics. All of these are naturally occurring and are in all wines and not harmful to us. In fact, the phenolics are what enhance the aromas, color and mouthfeel of wine – the pleasure spot!
Wine drinkers, however, want their wines to be bright and clear. In order to get this clarity and brightness, a process called “fining” takes place. And here is where we push away from the vegan table. Fining is like filtering or skimming to remove the tiny molecules to create a clear liquid. The substance(s) winemakers use for fining acts like a magnet attracting the molecules, clustering them into larger molecules, which can be sifted out.
The fining agents used most are albumin (egg white), gelatin (animal protein), casein (milk protein) and isinglass (a protein made from fish bladder). Important to know these are not “added” to the wine, but only used to create a larger molecule and skim those out of the wine.
Using either albumin or casein is generally okay for vegetarians, but off-limits for vegans.
Wow. Okay, that means no wine is vegan? Do vegans have to stop drinking wine?
Exhale. Winemakers today can easily make vegan wine by using earth-based clay finers like bentonite or activated charcoal (which is suddenly barista-trendy in coffee, cocoa and other mixology for cocktails).
What about “natural wine”?
The natural or naked movement in winemaking methods also qualifies for vegan. In this manner the winemaker allows nature to take the controls. Globally winemakers are allowing their wines to settle and clarify on their own. No fining involved. Although there is no labeling law that states the ingredients in wines, the natural wines take a certain pride in putting that onto their labels. Look for “unfiltered”, “not fined” or words like that on the back of the bottle. It’s also why some natural wines do have a slight cloudiness to them.
Randall Graham, a longtime wine maverick and experimenter, lists all of his ingredients on his labels and pushes for the legislation.
Where vegan wines can be found.
Many winemakers, globally, make vegan-friendly wine, from major names to small boutique wineries — the vegan message is out. Below are a few to check out. These wines can be easily found in supermarkets as well as your favorite wine shop. Also, since they may not necessarily put the ingredients on the label – your local wine shop is staffed with specialists who know every bottle and can give you the information. For a specialization, check out Du Vin Wine & Spirits in West Hollywood – the founder and proprietor, Rene Averseng is vegan and takes special care to stock wines from France, Italy, Australia, Spain, California, South America.
Some easy to find labels are: Frey Vineyards (Redwood Valley), Randall Grahams’ Bonny Doon (Santa Cruz), Moet & Chandon Champagne, Palmina Wines (Santa Barbara) and many others in the US, Canada, Europe, Mexico (Valle de Guadalupe) and South America. Here’s a link to another California vegan winery making vegan wine exclusively. Peta’s website lists wines from around the world available in the US. There are many from which to choose and enjoy whether you are a vegan, vegetarian or omnivore.
You may or may not be vegan. But the wonder of wine is that whatever your disposition, no wine drinker ever has to feel the “Uh oh!” of being left out of the joy and pleasure which is wine.
Stacie Hunt, Certifed Silver Pin Sommelier
Related: The Number One Wine Myth
Photo Credits Courtesy: Image 1 — Personalised Wine Design, Hannibal Brown; Image 2 — Live Kindly; Image 3 — Culinaire Magazine;