Most of us would assume all wines are vegan – it’s just fermented grapes. Before wines are bottled, however, they go through a clarification process to remove proteins, yeasts and other organic particles. Animal products are routinely used to bond with these unwanted substances to form larger particles which then sink to the bottom of a cask or tank. Commonly used fining agents are:
• Animal albumin (egg albumin and dried blood powder)
• Casein and potassium caseinate (milk proteins)
• Edible gelatin (made from bones)
• Isinglass (made from the swim bladders of fish)
Even though these animal products are removed and not present in the finished wine, wine drinkers who wish to avoid anything made with fish bladders and dried blood may prefer vegan wines, which are clarified using clay like Bentonite.
Joey Repice, Beverage Director at Pure Food & Wine in New York seeks out vegan wines to accompany their raw, vegan menu. “I don’t think that anyone goes to more length than we do to get vegan wines,” he says. The restaurant’s list comes with a guide that allows diners to learn more about the wine they order. Vegan wines are noted with a “v.”
It can be difficult, however, to always know for sure. “If a wine on our list doesn’t have a v next to it, it doesn’t mean they’re not vegan,” says Repice. “It just means I could not obtain information from the winemaker.” He adds, “We go to the lengths to find winemakers that are responsible—to the vineyards, to their customers, to winemaking.”
Its also worth noting that organic and vegan are two separate concepts in winemaking. A wine being organic gives no indication it may also be vegan, and vice-versa. Like everything else in wine, if something matters to you it may not always be easy to find the information but it’s not impossible. Here’s one list to help get you started.