Can Vegans Drink Wine?

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Wine has been a favorite drink for a long time, enjoyed by both men and women. Throughout history, it has been a prideful part of many social events, and today, people still love all the different types of wine. So, let us talk about something important – is wine vegan?

You might wonder why we’re even questioning it since wine is made from grapes. Well, that’s what we’re going to figure out in this post. There are some unique wines to try, so keep reading!

Understanding Veganism

Understanding veganism is essential when considering whether wine is suitable for a vegan lifestyle. Veganism is more than just a dietary choice; it is a commitment to avoiding all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, whether for food, clothing, or any other purpose. This lifestyle means that vegans do not consume or use animal products. This includes not only obvious items like meat and dairy but also extends to less evident products such as gelatin, honey, and certain animal-derived food additives.

The ethical aspect of veganism is a significant driving force for many who adopt this lifestyle. Vegans are motivated by a desire to reduce animal suffering and are often concerned about the practices involved in the meat, dairy, and egg industries. This ethical stance extends to all areas of consumption, including beverages like wine.

General Overview of Wine Production

To understand if wine is vegan-friendly, it’s essential to know the basics of wine production. The process begins with harvesting grapes, followed by crushing them to extract juice. This juice then undergoes fermentation, where yeast converts sugars into alcohol, a process that can last from weeks to months. After fermentation, the wine is clarified to remove solids and may be aged in various containers to enhance flavor. Finally, it’s bottled, sometimes involving additional filtering and fining.

The primary ingredient in wine is grapes, with yeast and sulfites often added during fermentation and preservation. However, the winemaking process might include substances, including animal-derived products, particularly during clarification. These additional substances are the main concern for vegans, making it crucial to understand the specific ingredients and methods used in producing a particular wine.

Bartender pouring red wine into glass indoors, closeup

Animal Products in Wine

Is all wine vegan? Wine is indeed made of only grapes and that’s why it’s correct to assume it to be vegan-friendly. However, before we jump the gun, it’s also important to look at another aspect.

Wine is made using a special process known as the fining process. The fining process in wine production is a method used to clarify and stabilize wine. This is where certain animal products may sometimes be used. They’re called fining agents and may include fish guts or eggs, which bind to and remove various particles that can cause haziness, off-flavors, or instability.

Fining is an important step in the winemaking process, especially for wines intended for early consumption, as it helps in achieving the desired clarity and stability quickly. However, some winemakers choose to avoid fining, believing that it can strip the wine of some of its natural character and complexity. These wines are often labeled as “unfined” and may have a slight haze or sediment.

Some young wines are capable of eventually arriving at the same state as that achieved by fining if left long enough. However, for commercial sales of wine, such time-consuming processes may not be feasible. Then how to clear wine quickly? By using a fining process.

Also, bull’s blood was originally used as a fining agent in wine-making but was recently banned by the EU. That didn’t put a blanket ban on the use of animal products though – isinglass (fish bladders), gelatin (pork), casein (milk protein), and albumen (egg white) are still used in wine production.

Fining Agents

Gelatin: This fining agent, derived from animal collagen, is frequently used in red wine production. Gelatin is particularly effective at softening the tannins in red wines, contributing to a smoother mouthfeel and reduced astringency. When added to wine, gelatin binds with tannins and other polyphenolic compounds, forming larger particles that can easily be removed. However, its animal-based origin makes it unsuitable for vegan or vegetarian wines. Additionally, the use of gelatin must be carefully controlled, as overuse can strip a wine of its desirable qualities.

Isinglass: Sourced from the dried swim bladders of fish, isinglass is a traditional fining agent used primarily in white and sparkling wines. It has a very fine clarifying ability, particularly effective for removing proteins that can cause turbidity in the wine. Isinglass forms a gelatinous substance that captures the proteins and other impurities, allowing them to settle to the bottom of the aging vessel for easy removal. Its use is limited in vegan and vegetarian winemaking due to its fish origin.

Egg Whites (Albumen): Egg whites have a long history of use in winemaking, especially in fining red wines. They are especially effective for softening the tannins in a wine, helping to create a more rounded and less astringent finish. The proteins in egg whites bind with excess tannins and other phenolic compounds, facilitating their removal. However, because egg whites are derived from eggs, they are not suitable for vegan winemaking. Moreover, the use of egg whites requires precision, as excessive use can lead to the removal of too many tannins, resulting in a wine lacking in structure.

Casein: This milk protein is commonly used in both red and white winemaking. Casein is effective for clarifying wines by binding to phenolic compounds that can cause browning or off-flavors, especially in white wines. In red wines, it can help reduce astringency and improve color stability. However, casein’s dairy origin makes it inappropriate for vegan wines and can be a concern for those with milk allergies.

Why Most Wine is Not Vegan

This brings us to yet another important question – is fining necessary in wine production? We answered it partly above when we explained that the fining process facilitates faster wine production by commercial winemakers who can’t afford naturally longer times for the wines to reach the desired state. There’s another possible explanation for it.

Fining helps clarify the wine and in the absence of this process, a large number of wines would appear misty. Animal products like casein and egg whites are of help here. These fining agents “glomb” over the dissolved proteins in the wine. As a result, these proteins are hastened out and deposited at the tank’s bottom. What you get is a clear transparent wine. 

In other words, to get the wine of your choice, you need to compromise with certain factors and allow the entry of fining agents into your favorite beverage. Thus, the fining process containing animal products is, well, a necessity. 

What is Vegan Wine?

All hope isn’t lost for vegan wine lovers. Wine production is slowly but steadily taking a new direction by adopting vegan wine-making processes by learning how to clear wine naturally. Instead of using fining agents, they’re accepting bentonite which is a clay-based agent and does the same job as fining agents – precipitating undesirable proteins out of the wine that cause haziness. Besides, activated charcoal is yet another vegan agent being used for the same purpose.

Additionally, we see a shifting trend toward natural wine-making processes wherein wines are given more time to self-clarify, letting time take its natural course. Such wines are generally labeled as not fined or not filtered. So vegans can assuredly choose these without a doubt.

Grape, bottle, and a glass of wine over a wooden table against a light brown background

Challenges in Identifying Vegan Wine

Identifying vegan-friendly wine can be challenging for consumers. The lack of standardized labeling may lead to confusion. Wineries might not explicitly state their fining agents, making it crucial for individuals to conduct thorough research or inquire with producers to ensure their wine aligns with vegan principles.

Vegan-friendly Wine Alternatives

This is kind of like going on a treasure hunt in the wine world! First off, there are natural and unfiltered wines – these are the cool, laid-back types that have not been dressed up with those fining agents we talked about. They are like the ‘au naturel’ beauties of the wine world. Then, some wines are certified vegan – these have been given a big thumbs-up that no animal products were used at any stage.

Vegan lovers have yet another bit of good news. Here’s a detailed list of various drinks that you can safely pick at any store, for they all are vegan. We compiled this for your convenience so you never have to be in doubt again before craving a refreshing beverage.

  • Alpine Spiced Cider
  • Bolthouse Farms Green Goddess Juice
  • Gatorade
  • Red Bull Energy Drink
  • Tang
  • Rice Dream Non-Dairy Beverage
  • Coconut Water
  • Herbal Teas
  • Black Coffee
  • Most of the sodas or soft drinks (Some soft drinks are not vegan while some are. Read the article on Are Sodas Vegan to know more)

Red wine glass on background

Wrapping it Up

While wine is primarily made from grapes, it is not always vegan due to the use of animal-derived fining agents and casein in the clarification process. Although fining is an important step in traditional winemaking for achieving clarity and stability, it often involves these non-vegan substances. However, the increasing demand for vegan-friendly options has led to alternative methods or allowing wines to self-clarify over time. As a result, vegan wines are becoming more accessible, but identifying them can still be challenging due to a lack of standardized labeling. Therefore, vegans interested in wine should research or inquire with producers to find options that align with their principles.

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