I recently asked my friend Andrew, a long-time vegan, if he had a hard time seeking out vegan-friendly wines.
“Uh, vegan-friendly wine?”
The confusion is fair. I mean … wine, it’s just grapes, right?
Well, that’s not exactly the whole picture.
In order to make what’s in your glass clear and pretty, wine often goes through a clarifying and stabilizing process known as fining, which commonly involves animal-based processing aids.
Young wines contain various particles such as dead yeast cells, bacteria, proteins, pectins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics that make it look hazy. Adding fining agents that bind with these haze-inducing particles makes it easier to separate them out of the wine before the final product is bottled.
Some non-vegan, and sometimes non-vegetarian, fining agents include:
Albumin – dried egg white
Casein – animal milk protein
Gelatin – boiled cow and/or pig parts such as skin, tendon, and bone
Isinglass – Sturgeon fish bladder
Bone char – just what it sounds like. This one is less common, but it’s a thing
Ox blood – used to be a thing, particularly with old-world wineries, until Mad Cow disease scared the practice out of us in Europe and the U.S.
Unfortunately for wine drinkers looking for products that were not processed with animal products, the wine industry is not required to list fining agents on the label.
For vegans, vegetarians or others with restrictive diets whose choice is based on principle, the fact that the animal-based products are removed before the wine is bottled does not negate their use.
And although they’re removed from the final product, traces of these agents may still get absorbed into the wine. According to plant-based nutritionist Lisa Smith, founder of Professionally Fit and The Black Health Academy, this can be an issue for people with allergies or food sensitivity.
“People should know when something they’re consuming has been exposed to certain allergens they may have a reaction to, such as seafood or milk products,” says Smith.
The good news is not all fining agents are animal-based. Some wines are fined with clay or charcoal-based alternatives.
And some wines aren’t fined at all. If left to sit long enough, a wine will eventually self-fine and self-stabilize naturally, without the use of fining agents.
How do you seek out these wines?
Health stores are a great place to start. Their wine buyers and salespeople will likely be knowledgeable about suitable options. One name to look for is Frey Vineyards, whose vegan wines are also organic and sulfite-free.
While some brands may only use vegan and/or vegetarian practices on some of their wines, others incorporate animal-free practices into their entire line, such as John Salley’s Vegan Vine.
If you’re searching on your own, look for wines that are clearly labeled as “Vegan Friendly” or “Vegetarian Friendly.” Keep in mind that a wine labeled “Organic” or “Sulfite Free” is not necessarily vegan and/or vegetarian friendly.
A label that indicates “No fining or filtration used,” such as this 2014 Santa Barbara County Malbec by Lieu Dit, is also vegan friendly, since it bypasses all fining agents in lieu of gravity and time.
Some wines may be vegan and/or vegetarian friendly even though it’s not designated on the label. Check barnivore.com if you’re unsure. This useful site provides an easy-to-navigate list of thousands of wines that are clearly marked as vegan friendly or not. It’s alphabetized by brand, and separated by country and region.
Still not sure where to start your wine search? The Brut Detroit team and our sommeliers are happy to help you find out what’s available in your area. Send inquiries, comments or any other feedback to ofelia@BrutDetroit.com.