Many wine drinkers are surprised to learn that not every bottle is suitable for vegans – wine is made from grapes, isn’t it? Here, we explain the differences between vegan and non-vegan wine, how different winemaking techniques impact (or don’t impact) the taste, and where you can find vegan-friendly drinks.
More people than ever are seeking out plant-based food at mealtimes, whether it’s to reduce their environmental impact or improve their health. It’s no surprise, then, that wine drinkers are looking to ensure that the liquid in their glass is vegan-friendly too.
It would be understandable if you assumed all wine to be vegan, seeing as it is made from pressed and fermented grapes. However, the production methods used in the winery can lead to a wine being unsuitable for vegans.
Why isn’t all wine vegan?
The crux of the issue is that the majority of winemakers use animal-based products for fining and stabilizing wine. Most wines go through a filtration process, where a fining agent is added to the juice to remove unwanted particles that can cause haziness, or affect the flavour, colour and bitterness. The fining agent binds to these tiny lumps and makes them big enough to filter out.
Historically, many producers have used animal products – from egg whites and casein (derived from milk), to isinglass (fish bladders) and gelatin (made by boiling pig skin). Wines that have been fined with the latter two would also not be considered vegetarian.
These substances probably sound off-putting, but the good news is they are completely removed before the wine is bottled. In spite of this, the use of animal derivatives in the production process means that certain wines cannot be considered vegan.
However, there are alternative fining agents, and these are used increasingly by winemakers all over the world. Bentonite (a type of clay) is one of the most popular. Another option is poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone (PVPP). However, as a synthetic product, it is not seen as a viable option for winemakers who aim for any processing agents that they use to come from natural origins.
Some producers avoid the fining process altogether. You may see terms such as 'unfined' on the label to indicate this.
If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of the wine in your glass, it is also worth looking out for the terms ‘organic’ and ‘sustainable’ on the bottle (certified organic or sustainable wines must be made to a publicly stated standard). Please note that these wines won’t automatically be vegan.
Does vegan wine taste different?
This one is easy to answer – no! There are no fundamental differences in taste between vegan and non-vegan wines. The grape variety used is the primary factor that creates a wine’s flavour, but other considerations such as where the grapes were grown and the use of oak ageing are also important influences.
Where to buy vegan wine
Winemakers aren’t required to detail winemaking practices on their bottles, so it can be tough to work out if a wine has been produced in a vegan-friendly way. Some producers will have an accredited certification which can be printed on labels to verify that particular wines are vegan (BeVeg is one example). However, this can be expensive and the process of applying for the license is lengthy. As a result, many producers don’t use the vegan label even though the wine they make would qualify.
If you’re searching for vegan wine, the US website Barnivore is a good place to start. It is an online directory of wine, spirits and beer, where you can type in the name of a producer to find out if their wines are vegan or not. (Whether a wine is determined vegan-friendly is based on the information Barnivore receives, and the site encourages consumers to contact wine producers directly if they need more details to determine whether a wine is suitable for them).
Oh, and don’t worry if you see terms like ‘meat’, ‘honey’ or ‘leather’ mentioned in the tasting notes. These descriptors come from the grape variety, ageing process, or other winemaking practices. They don’t mean that the wine isn’t vegan!
Want to learn more?
If this has got you interested in learning more about the basics of wine production methods, then why not sign up for the WSET Level 1 Award in Wines?
This introductory course covers a range of topics including the main types of wine, common wine grapes, how to store and serve wine, and the principles of food pairing. Find out about WSET courses.
This article was written by Rachel Gray, WSET School London Marketing Manager
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