Whether you participate in Veganuary or you are vegan all year round and curious as to why not all wines are vegan then here is the long and short of it. One would assume wine is naturally vegan because well, grapes. The short answer is no. The long answer is found in the filtering or fining process in winemaking. A non-vegan clarifying agent like egg whites (albumin) or casein (protein from cow’s milk) traditionally used in this step of the winemaking process.
What is the Fining Process?
Young wines are normally cloudy and naturally contain particles from the winemaking process. As consumers, we like to see our wine bottles crystal clear on retail shelves. In time, most wines will stabilise on their own, but winemakers employ the fining process to assist in getting your wine to market star bright and visually appealing. Fining can on occasion be used to reduce astringency, bitterness and tannins in red wines.
Fining agents are added to wine sometime before bottling and act like magnets that draw solids to bind particles. The heavy undesirables sink to the bottom for filtering.
So what makes a wine vegan?
Vegan wines use vegan-friendly fining agents. The most common are bentonite (clay) and activated charcoal. Winemakers may also opt for a more natural filtration process. You can purchase wines au naturel that are both unfined and unfiltered.
Vegan Wine Fun Facts & Useful Tips from Wine Folly
It’s typical for quality white, rosé and sparkling wines to use isinglass (a fish byproduct) for fining
It’s common for red wines to use egg whites or casein for fining to remove bitter-tasting phenolics
Old-world wineries previously used ox-blood to fine wine, but this is no longer common or legal today (phew)
Fining agents are removed before wine is bottled
Wines that are unfined and unfiltered are naturally vegan
Wines filtered only with sterile filters (ceramic filters) or cross-flow filters are vegan
Several mass-produced wineries use sterile filters instead of animal products
Some wineries use bentonite to fine protein from white wines instead of isinglass
Biodynamic wines can be made in a vegan way when they are unfined, but since the farming process may use animal bones (for special compost mixtures) this could exclude them from vegan-friendly status (note: there are different schools of thought here, but you get the general gist)
If a wine is organic, that doesn’t guarantee it’s vegan
How do I know if the wine I’m buying is vegan?
In general, winemakers are not required by wine labelling laws to provide a list of all ingredients on their product labels. There may be bottles that are labelled “vegan-friendly”, but there is still no official certification at the moment. Some countries do require allergy labelling, which would include egg, casein (dairy), etc. Many of Wines Direct winemakers subscribe to minimal intervention in the vineyard and cellar, thus, inherently vegan. Not all may state this on the label, but our website lists many vegan-friendly wines. If you are unsure about one of our wines, ask us, and we are happy to follow up with you on the winemakers’ methods.
A Few of our Favourite Vegan Wines
Château Sainte-Marie are 5th generation winemakers in Bordeaux. The distinctive inherent quality of their wines directly result from the diversity of soils in which their vines are grown and the organic approach to winemaking.
Fattoria Bruno Nicodemi, run by the brother and sister team of Elena and Alessandro are rising stars on the Abruzzo wine scene. All grapes are grown organically, harvested by hand and pressed gently with the most modern of technology.