Yes, vegan wines are a thing. Here’s why.
If wine is made from grapes, then doesn’t that mean wine is naturally vegan?
Well, no, actually. It’s not that simple. And in fact, most wines are not vegan friendly.
While it’s true that most wine starts out as a few simple ingredients — namely grape juice & yeast — before the final product is bottled there are winemaking practices that can render a wine un-vegan.
After fermentation and aging, it’s common practice to filter and fine (clarify) wine before bottling. Fining removes yeast, protein, cloudiness, and other organic particles from the wine before it enters the bottle and, eventually, your glass.
Thing is, many fining agents used by wineries are derived from animals. Fining agents like egg whites, bone marrow, gelatin, and isinglass (derived from fish bladders) are commonly used to make sure that a wine is clear and bright when served. This is the “dark side of winemaking” in a way. These processes are not often advertised, for obvious reasons, but are common in the art of winemaking. Obviously, this is a problem if you abide by a vegan lifestyle or follow a plant-based diet.
Thankfully, there are ways to go about yielding similar clarifying results without the use of animal products. Carbon, limestone, and clay can be used in place of animal products, but are often a bit more labor-intensive.
Beware of labels
As far a “certified vegan” wine is concerned, use caution when purchasing. Wines that have a “certified vegan” stamp on the back label just means that the wine is not fined with an animal product and that the winery paid a hefty fee to have that label on the back — marketing at its finest! Many of the certified vegan wines that feature a stamp of approval are typically lower quality and lean on that certification to sell the wine instead of focusing on making a high-quality product. That is certainly not the case for every “certified vegan” wine, but as a consumer of vegan wine it is important to understand that there is a whole world of vegan-friendly wine that is not “certified vegan.”
If you are on the hunt for a fantastic bottle of vegan wine, I recommend doing some research. If the wine is unfined and unfiltered, it is naturally vegan. A quick search of a wine and the processes used in the winemaking will usually clarify (pun fully intended) if that wine is vegan or not. Another great resource besides winery websites is barnivore.com, a searchable guide with thousands of vegan beverages. However, it’s not a master list, as some wines are not listed on the site.
If you are into the “natural wine” movement you may notice some of the wines in this category are cloudy when you serve them. That’s because they are unfined. Cloudy, funky wine often falls into the vegan category, but if you are a fan of more classic selections, I recommend following the above advice.
My hope is that with this basic understanding of the final steps of winemaking, you will be able to look past a certification on the back label, do a little research, and find amazing bottles from around the world that have a place at your vegan table.
— By Sean Crenny
Sean’s Vegan Wine Recommendations: