With more people going vegan and adopting a lifestyle change, it is no wonder that they want to sure that everything they are taking is vegan.
This includes their wines. A person can be forgiven for assuming that all wines are vegan after all, they are made from grapes.
While wines are truly fruit-based, there is a process of making them. It is this process that changes everything.
Being vegan means that you do not eat any kind of food or products that are derived from animals neither do you use any other animal products.
Although wines generally are considered good for the health they might not be necessarily vegan-friendly.
This is because they go through a process called “fining”. People confuse veganism and vegetarianism; they are not the same thing. You can find the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian here.
Getting Rid of Molecules During The Winemaking Process
An important part of processing wine is its fermentation. It is at this point that the natural sugar contained in the grapes is turned into alcohol. From there, yeast is added and it triggers a reaction in the sugar turning the fruit juice into wine in the process.
At this stage, the wine is hazy and cloudy in appearance due to the presence of molecules such as phenolics, tannins, or tartrates. These molecules are by-products of the process and they are not harmful in any way. In fact, you can choose to drink the wine that way.
For commercial production, this may not be acceptable as winemakers will not be able to ship it that way. End consumers prefer that it is bright and clear rather than molecules floating around. To ensure that the molecules are removed, producers typically use fining agents.
What Fining Agents Do
When left alone by themselves, wines can self-fine but this can take a long time. When it has to be produced commercially and in high quantities, there is no luxury of time to wait for self-fining. At this point, fining agents are used to speed up the process.
These fining agents act like magnets by attracting the floating molecules for easy removal. The issue is, a lot of them are made from animal products. These can include albumin which is egg whites, gelatin and animal protein, casein – a milk protein and isinglass which is protein from fish bladder.
Although, the fining agents are filtered when the wine is clarified, there can remain tiny traces of the animal proteins. This goes against most vegan diets especially when this is driven by animal rights. If the reason a person is vegan is due to supposed health benefits, using these agents might not be an issue.
You can read more about fining in this article https://www.decanter.com/learn/advice/what-is-fining-51651/.
Asides from using fining agents for removing tannins, winemakers also use bone fragments during the distillation process. In filtering it, they can employ the use of isinglass and when growing the grapes, microorganisms, as well as exoskeletons of earthworms, are used for the soil. If this is the case, where does this leave the growing number of people who are vegan and do not want to consume animal products?
Although most fining agents are animals based, thankfully, there are some that are not. Some are earth-based including agents such as silica gel, limestone and bentonite (clay). Others include activated charcoal, vegetable plaques and plant casein.
For winemakers, there is also the option of leaving the particles so that they may sink naturally. As pointed out earlier, this may not be realistic due to time constraints as producers need to ship out as soon as possible. They also need to create space for another batch of production.
Also, note that the fact that a bottle of wine is vegan does not necessarily mean that it is healthy. There are other additives such as sugar and sulfite used in winemaking but to a large extent, they are healthy. Also, it is not necessarily organic or natural. The major factor is that it does not contain animal proteins whether it is conventional, organic or natural.
Identifying Vegan Wines
When drinking wine, there is no distinguishable difference between those that use animal-based fining agents and those that use earth-based ones. What makes the difference in taste is the variety of grape, terroir as well as the method of processing it.
Unfortunately, most winemakers do not have logos or other ways for people to identify that is it vegan. Some do state this or have logos for identification but it is not a requirement. Again, when you have to pick amongst a variety of wine bottles, checking the list of ingredients may be time-consuming.
Experts have said for quick identification, check the label and if you find “unfiltered” or “unfined’, it indicates that the wine is vegan. This is because an increasing number of producers are opting not to filter their wines.
On some other bottles, you may find disclaimers such as “may contain traces of fish products or egg whites”. This may not be helpful in choosing a vegan bottle but at least, you know it is not.
Another way to go about it is by checking a winemaker’s website. It might be difficult figuring out if the product is vegan by just looking at the label. By looking up the producer, you should find such information as they will always make it clear if it is. You may just as well head over to the vegan section on the website.
If you can, you may want to take a look at the vegan wine by Organic Hill to really get a first-hand understanding of what this variation of drinks can offer.
Vegans are people who are careful about what they eat and drink. They are particular about not eating meat or any animal-based products and this includes wines.
Although most wines use animal-based fining agents, there are other fining agents available so that vegans also can enjoy drinking their favorite wine.
If you are unsure that a bottle of wine is vegan, simply check the labeling if it is “unfiltered” or “unfined”. Also, if you have the time, you may choose to visit the producer’s website to learn more about it.