What is vegan wine? - WineUncorked: Wine Reviews and Tips

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January is now Veganuary, with many people opting to try non-animal products and adopt a vegan diet and lifestyle. But how does this affect your choice of wines? Since wine is basically grape juice fermented with yeast (which you can see growing ‘wild’ as the white bloom on your home-grown garden plums and grapes if you have them) you may be wondering how wine can be anything but vegan-friendly. Where do animal derivatives come in to winemaking?

It’s all down to something called finings. Finings are substances added to the finished fermented grape juice to help clear what at this stage is rather a cloudy liquid with suspended particles of old yeast and some grape particles. Adding finings turns this unattractive murky liquid into a wine that is clear and ‘bright’ – a winemaker's term for a pretty colour that looks good when you hold your glass up to the light of a sunlit window.

There is one more step. After adding the finings the resulting dregs of solid matter are separated from the clear wine so in fact no finings actually end up in the bottled wine. But their very use may cause you ethical problems if you are a vegan and wish to see no animal exploited for its body or the products it makes.

Vegans would not want to consume a wine made with common finings such as:

  • milk derivatives (known as casein)
  • egg whites
  • fish bladders (isinglass)
  • gelatin (much is made from pig skins)
  • Chitosan (a trade name for a fining derived from lobster and crab shell)

There are finings that can be ‘Vegan-friendly’ or 'Vegan Approved’, indicated by symbols are used on the back label of the wine bottle. Vegan-friendly finings include:

  • bentonite (clay earth)
  • charcoal
  • crushed quartz rock
  • silica
  • moss
  • seaweed
  • plant proteins derived from potatoes, cereals and even grape pips.

Home-brewers of beer or fruit wines could also use a a common weed from the back garden. Ale hoof, also known as ground ivy, is one of the mint family that is low growing with green leaves and pretty purple flowers. Home brewers since Saxon times have been adding it to their drinks to add flavour and help clear it.

If you can’t see any vegan symbol or vegan wording on the wine label then you must assume it has been made with animal-derived finings. To be doubly sure you could purchase the Co-op’s own-label wines here in the UK. All of them have a list of ingredients on the back label and so if it’s been made with something not suitable for vegetarians or vegans then they say so.

Of course there’s nothing stopping non-vegans enjoying these vegan wines too. They all taste just as great.

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About WineUncorked and its editor, Paula Goddard Read more