At first glance, dietary notices on wine labels may seem a bit over the top, but for wine lovers who follow a vegan lifestyle and for everyone else who is naturally curious about wine, a vegan label offers clues about how the wine was made.
Logic dictates that wine should be vegan. After all, we have a simple recipe of grapes plus yeast that’s gone unchanged for thousands of years.
But while we are indeed fortunate to live in an era where you seldom come across faulty wines at any price point, making good wine usually needs some minor intervention.
Crafting Perfect Wines
One step in the winemaking process involves correcting faults. Faults vary, from the minor to the more serious, and every wine is unique. A white wine may be slightly brown. Another wine may have too much oak or be too tannic. And still another could be slightly hazy. Whether the bottle comes from the bottom shelf or the top, we carry the expectation that our wines will be clean and balanced.
Specific additives can help correct for clarity, stability, color, and sensory adjustments. These additives fall under the umbrella label of fining agents.
Understanding Fining Agents
Winemakers use fining agents to correct faults. They are insoluble, meaning that they can’t dissolve into the wine, and come in a powder or liquid form. Fining agents carry a positive or negative charge and they work by binding with particles in the wine that are causing the wine fault. Once bound together, both the additive and the faulty particles fall out of solution to the bottom of the barrel or tank.
At this point, the winemaker two options: siphon off the clean wine and leave the fining agent bound with the other particles behind, and/or filter the wine before bottling.
Why Is Wine Not Vegan?
Certain animal-based fining agents make wines non-vegan. Most particles that cause haze, for example, are negatively charged. Proteins carry a positive charge. Animal byproducts, which are proteins, get added in the fining process because opposites attract. Commonly used products include:
Casein (milk product)
Isinglass (fish bladder by-product)
Remember, these additives don’t stay in the wine. After they’ve done their work, the winemaker removes them, leaving only our clean wine. In addition to improving a wine’s clarity, these protein-based fining agents do a wonderful job of reducing browning, bitterness, and excessive oak.
Vegan Friendly Wines
If a wine carries a vegan label, you know that it skipped the traditional animal-based fining agents during the production process. Vegan friendly wines can come in any color: red, white, or rosé.
What about vegan wines that need fining?
For our vegan friends, the wine industry has responded with new plant-based fining agents. A wine with a vegan label may use one of these alternative products. A recent additive to market is a pea protein powder that works the same way as the more traditional animal-based products.
As our understanding of wine chemistry improves, no doubt that new products and processes will continue to be developed.
We recently got a few vegan wines from South Africa! See them below, or visit our Wine Store. When you click on a wine, you can now see if that wine is Low Sugar, Low Carb, Paleo, Keto, Vegan, and more!
Author Bio: Erin O’Reilly is a Certified Specialist of Wine with the Society of Wine Educators and a long-time lover of all things fermented grape. She pens her work from Monterey wine country where she raises a glass to the growers and producers crafting wines that transcend time.