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How to Shop for Vegan Wine: What You Need to Know

Vegan Wines Wine Woman Song

If you have recently gone vegan and are looking for a way to replace your old go-to wines with vegan wine, then you are in luck.

With the growing popularity of vegan wines, there are now more options than ever. And with that comes confusion— what is vegan wine? What should I look for? How do I know if it is good?

Here are some tips on how to navigate the wine aisle when looking for great vegan wines.

What is vegan wine?

First off: what is vegan wine? Vegan wines are without animal products.

Although the Vegan Society accepts the use of by-products like casein and egg whites in winemaking, it is important to know that just because the animal is not killed in the production of wine does not make it vegan. For example, the wine labels stuck to the bottle may have connective tissue or bone in the adhesive.

Today there are several choices winemakers have to use non-animal ingredients. These include wines made with animal-free agents such as pea protein and even potatoes, as well as carbon and clay-based agents.

More than ever, options are available for winemakers who want to support the vegan lifestyle by drinking great wine. 

Why are some wines not vegan?

You might be surprised to learn that most wines even use animal-derived products. 

To be considered vegan, the grapes must have been grown without animal products. The same goes for the production in the winery. 

For example, whether it is a Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc or Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, grapes grown on a vineyard where pesticides do not have animal by-products. 

The same goes for any other type of alcohol produced with grapes: it must be free from animal-based ingredients or animal by-products to qualify as vegan.

Most of what makes wine non-vegan is what happens in the winery. 

Why is wine filtered through fish bladders?

In the winery, this is process of ‘fining’ the wine. In particular, with what is called isinglass (fish membranes). 

So, what is fining all about? Simply put, fining is a process that removes impurities from wine. Fining agents are used in most types of wine to remove particles and other things that may give the wine an unpalatable taste or appearance.

The most common fining agents concerning vegan wines are casein, isinglass and egg whites.

Fining agents are used in the production of most types of wine to remove particles and other things that may give the wine an unpalatable taste or appearance. 

When fining agents are added to the wine, they stick to molecules in the wine making process and sink to the bottom of the barrel, taking elements such as tartaric acid, plant proteins and phenolic compounds along with them.

What are the non-vegan ingredients used to make wine?

You will find thse in the animal-based fining agents. 

This process removes protein, yeast, cloudiness, “off” flavours and colours, and other organic particles. Traditional fining agents include:

  • Gelatin (made from animals
  • Blood and bone marrow
  • Casein (milk protein)
  • Chitin (fibre from crustacean shells)
  • Egg albumen (derived from egg whites)
  • Fish oil
  • Gelatin (protein from boiling animal parts)
  • Isinglass (made from fish bladder membranes) has historically been used in clarification processes but is being phased out because it’s not considered humanely sourced by most vegans today; casein (another type of protein found in dairy products such as cheese) may be used during fermentation as well.

Let’s go into some of these in more detail (some readers may want to skip this next section).

Why is normal wine not vegan wine?

For wines that are not vegan, winemakers can use a range of non-vegan materials to fine the wines:

Egg whites

While you might be surprised to learn that egg whites are used in wine-making, it’s a common practice. The proteins in the egg white help clarify the wine, making it more transparent and vibrant while taking out bitter tannins. Traditional cakes in wine regions are often made with all those discarded egg yolks, such as canelé in Bordeaux.

Casein, a milk by-product

Commonly used in the production of red wine. This is done through the use of fining processes, which are usually performed to clarify the wine and take out the bitter tannin taste. The casein is added to the wine and then left to settle.

Fish bladders, or isinglass

Not commonly used in wine production today, although it is useful to know the term isinglass. Instead of fish bladders, winemakers use other clarifying agents such as bentonite clay. These ingredients can be used to clarify wine without being derived from animals.

Animal blood

The practice of using blood in wine fining dates back to ancient times, though it has gradually dwindled due to the availability of other methods. It was banned in the US and Europe in 1997.

The winemaking process for a vegan wine is slightly different from that of normal wine. 

The good news? Several common fining agents are animal-friendly and used to make wine vegan. 

Carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel, and vegetable plaques are all suitable alternatives.

In addition to the wine label, you may want to consider taking a look at the back of the bottle. Here’s what you might find:

* Ingredients list. Sometimes a winery will list all of its ingredients, including whether they are animal-free or not. It is not required in the United States, or other markets, but ingredients must be labelled on all wines sold within the EU market by the 2022 vintage.

* Shellac or beeswax: Although it won’t be on the ingredients, check for these non-vegan enclosures.

* Winery website or social media accounts. Many producers have websites where they talk about their products and how they’re made—you can usually find this info by searching for their name or scanning through their website/social media accounts for mentions of “vegan.”

Many wines are made without any animal products, but there’s no specific certification for them.

Many wines are made without any animal products, but there’s no specific certification for them. 

There’s also no official definition of what qualifies as vegan or not.

Some brands advertise their wines as vegan-friendly, others don’t label their product at all (which is legal in the U.S.), and some brands don’t even realize their process includes animal products until it’s pointed out to them by vegans or vegetarians who’ve discovered this information on a website.

How to spot a vegan wine label

Look for the words “Vegan” on the label

While some non-vegan wines don’t explicitly state that they use animal-based fining agents, vegan producers often promote their products on their labels. 

There’s more to a wine’s label than meets the eye.

The Vegan Society has a trademark that allows companies to show that their products don’t contain animal derivatives or ingredients. If you see this logo on a bottle of wine, it’s because the wine is made according to vegan ingredients.

vegan wine label
vegan wine label / image: wset global

Does it mention it is “unfiltered” ?

This could be a good sign for vegans. If a wine is unfiltered, it means that there has not been a heavy fining process, if at all. Because of this, most unfiltered wines are vegetarian/vegan friendly.

Is it considered a natural wine?

This term is often used interchangeably with “Organic” and can be a bit confusing; however, “natural” to can describe wines that haven’t been processed with any chemicals added to preserve their flavour versus something made entirely out of grapes or fruit where nothing has been added afterwards either before bottling or after bottling (for example, pasteurizing). They are often unfiltered and cloudy. 

Is it biodynamic?

Like natural and organic wines, this biodynamic can be a tricky one for vegans because the wine could look unfiltered, too. Bio stands for biodynamic farming which means that all aspects including what fertilizers are used have been carefully considered when growing these plants so there will be a minimal environmental impact. Biodynamic principles are based on the work of Steiner who advocates working with the cycles of the moon and Steiner principles. However, viticulture based on biodynamic principles can and does use animal products (for example, cow horns) instead of chemical fertilisers.

Does organic mean vegan?

When you’re shopping for vegan wine, you may come across the term “organic.” 

Organic wines are made without the use of artificial ingredients or pesticides and other chemicals and are strictly regulated in the EU. But organic doesn’t necessarily mean vegan—some wines use animal products in processing, ageing, bottling and labelling.

Here’s what you need to know about whether an organic wine is vegan:

  • In the processing stage: Some winemakers use natural compost on their vines as a method of protecting them from pests. Other winemakers will clarify the wine with milk products (such as milk proteins. If a wine says it’s produced “using organic practices,” but doesn’t specifically mention that no animal products were used during the production process, then it’s not 100% vegan-friendly; however, if it does say this explicitly then you can be sure that no animal products were used throughout the whole process from start to finish.
  • During ageing: Some winemakers age their wines in wooden casks that previously held sherry or port—both of which contain fining agents made from gelatin.
  • During bottling: Some producers bottle their wines using traditional cork closures—which often contain animal glues.
  • On labels: Many traditional paper labels contain casein glue (from milk), while some have been known to rely exclusively on synthetic or bio alternatives to glue made from bone.

What is the difference between vegan wine and vegetarian wine? 

Vegetarian wines may be made with eggs and casein (milk protein), which means that if you’re concerned about being vegan, you’ll want to check the labels of your favourite wines before buying them.

A bottle of wine can be vegetarian and not vegan— even if it isn’t labelled vegetarian, don’t be afraid of asking about that bottle of red wine in a restaurant. Although it’s safe for you to drink if it is labelled vegan.

All wines aren’t made the same, but there are good vegan options out there.

There are many different types of wine for vegans, in every style of wine from sweet to sparkling wine. Although if a wine is vegan doesn’t mean it’s always good. Much like normal wines. 

If you’re concerned about the ingredients in your bottle of Pinot Grigio or Chianti Classico, and unsure, consider asking knowledgeable staff at your local wine merchant about vegan options and don’t forget: there’s no shame in asking for clarification on the labels, whether the style is a light Pinot Grigio or expensive Pinot Noir. 

Are animal products ever in the finished wine?

While some of the agents used in the process are quite strange for non-winemakers, it’s important to note that the amount of fining agents that are left over in the finished product is completely trace

This means that unless you are a vegan or vegetarian, you shouldn’t be alarmed by the number of animal protein products that are used in the production of wine.

Although for vegans, this cold comfort if animals are involved.

If you love wine but want to avoid animal products, there are options available to you.

There are many vegan wines available on the market today (and more are being created every day). 

As veganism becomes more popular, supermarkets such as Asda, Co-op, Waitrose Cellar, Morrisons, Tesco and Sainsbury’s all offer their own-brand vegan wines. Lidl and Aldi also stock a selection of vegan wines. 

Supermarkets are working with winemakers to encourage the use of non-animal fining agents in their products.

Many wineries have begun offering vegan-friendly options to the market since more people have been making the switch from non-vegan to plant-based diets over recent years. 

Conclusion

The wine industry has evolved significantly in recent years, and we can now find an extensive selection of vegan-friendly wines. 

Hopefully, this will help you be a more informed shopper when you want your wine vegan. Every year offers something new, so be sure to check out what’s available on the shelves (or the trendiest wine bars, if you tend to seek out organic or natural wines). 

And if you’re not a vegan, keep in mind that all of these wines taste the same as normal wines and are great for non-vegan friends and relatives, too. Now that’s a bottle of vino everyone can raise their glass to!

Here are the vegan wine selections for the major UK supermarkets today:

Are you or your family and friends vegan? Share your tips here or send me a tweet

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