Exploring vegetarian and vegan wines

Vegetarian and vegan wines.

Vegetarian and vegan wines. - Credit: Archant

Aren’t all wines vegan or at least vegetarian? Can you recommend a vegetarian or vegan wine to go with a certain dish? Both questions we are frequently being asked at Flagship Wines, so what are the answers?

It may be surprising to learn that not all wines are vegetarian and vegan-friendly though after conducting a review of our range we know that nearly 75 per cent are made without any use of animal-related products. Wine is after all the product of fermented grapes so why are animal products used?

The simple answer is that historically many producers have used animal-derived products as a filter to clarify the wine after fermentation so no particles of yeast and other materials remain when it is bottled. These include things like egg white, milk protein or casein, bone marrow, gelatin, fish oil or isinglass (boiled fish bladder) and they help remove the particles in the hazy young wine that may otherwise be detrimental to the wine’s flavour or appearance.

These products are added to the wine where they attract the unwanted particles like a magnet and these coagulated larger particles then sink to the bottom of the barrel or vat in which they are added and are more easily removed. Although they are precipitated out of the wine, which is then often filtered, it is their use in wine production that is the issue though they are not additives.

Although casein and egg white would be acceptable to vegetarians they are not so for vegans and alternatives need to be used as tiny amounts are absorbed into the wine.

Increasingly alternative vegetarian and vegan friendly fining agents are being used. Sometimes this is also due to financial pressures as the products and their use become more expensive and time consuming. Just think of the number of eggs required for fining a barrel of Bordeaux wine for example!

Traditionally the winery’s hens would provide the eggs that would then need to be prepared and administered by hand though nowadays the egg whites can be bought as a ready to use solution.

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Bentonite clay is now often used as is activated charcoal and in cheaper wines especially more rigorous filtration through very fine filters at high speed immediately prior to bottling will remove the unwanted particles. Also, more wines are left to self-filter naturally as the production of ‘natural wines’ increases. ‘Aren’t all wines natural?’ is the next question that often arises – and that’s a whole new article in the making though the quick answer is yes, some just need a helping hand.

It’s not always easy to see which wines are suitable for vegetarian and vegan consumers though as the numbers of non-meat eaters increases the wine displays are highlighting this category. In the US there is growing demand for compulsory ingredient listing to apply to wine and the labels for wine on sale there now has to include any potential allergens despite their miniscule traces in wine. However, until such a time that there is a requirement in our own country we are reliant on wine shops to advise customers. I feel that it will become easier as the wine category grows and producers are persuaded to use non-animal derived fining agents.