Drinking responsibly takes on a whole new meaning when you reach for that glass of wine, if you're vegan. Since most wines are made from grapes, you may not think this is an area you have to be vegan savvy. Unfortunately, like anything else, you have to be a sleuth to find wine that is vegan friendly.
There is a step that can take place toward the end of the wine making process where a small amount of a substance is introduced to the wine to attract tiny bits of naturally occurring organic particles, like grape stems and yeast. The process is called fining, and it clarifies the wine. Haziness, “Off” flavors and colorings are removed and the wine is left with a smooth, silky mouth feel. Most wines, if left long enough, will self-fine. Fining agents help the process along.
Here is where the dilemma arises. The fining agent is not always vegan, and minute particles of the fining agent may remain in the wine. The wine may be filtered through a substance that is derived from a spectrum of products. Bone and guts, milk, shells, animal gelatin, egg white, wheat gluten isolate, various clays, carbon and limestone can all provide the base for the fining agent, as well as other substances, vegan and not.
Not all wine makers employ this step. Some feel that fining can detract from a wine’s complexity. In that case the bottle may be labeled “Unfined”. There has been a trend in France since 1997, during the height of Mad Cow disease, to produce animal free wine. The United States has been slower to warm up to the idea, though the use of blood is now banned in the United States.
The number of intentional vegan wineries is a significant minority. Since most French wineries are more focused on producing good wines than avoiding animal products, they cannot be considered intentionally vegan. However, the cost of animal based fining agents are becoming prohibitively expensive. Many wineries, especially in the United States, are vegan by default, even if they aren’t marketed that way.
Reading the wine’s label will not always denote if the wine is vegan, or not. It may take some inquiry. If you’re on a vineyard tour, you can ask the guide. Some wine stores have an organic and vegan section, and the proprietor may be knowledgeable enough to point you in the right direction. Barnivore.com and VegNews can also point you toward some vegan friendly wineries.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.