With an ever increasing array of food choices, the vegan lifestyle is rapidly growing in popularity. While some may view this dietary choice as a trend, I see it as a permanent shift in how we as a society choose to eat, drink and live our lives. Wine is no exception, as individuals who follow the vegan diet will also be looking for vegan friendly wines.
Is there such a thing as vegan wines? Isn’t it all just a bunch of grapes?
The answer quite simply stated is both a ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Wine is primarily made out of grapes; however, the actual process of making the wine may or may not involve the addition of various ingredients that may or may not adhere to vegan standards. Let’s explore this a bit further.
When fermentation of the wine has finished, basically the process by which the sugar is changed into alcohol by the active yeast cells, the winemaker has a choice to clarify the wine. When a clarification agent is added to the wine it jumpstarts a process called flocculation. Basically, any organic particles or colloids that are suspended in the wine join together and are easily removed as a larger entity. If left behind, the organic matter will leave the wine looking cloudy, which is often unappealing to some wine drinkers. Some winemakers (often natural winemakers) shy away from this process, while others believe that it is necessary to improve the overall quality and beauty of the wine. Personally, it depends upon the wine, which depends upon the winemaker, which depends upon the quality of the grapes, which depends upon the quality of the vineyard. So, I don’t believe that I can make a blanket judgement on the matter. It’s all relative and very personal.
Which clarification agents are used in non-vegan wines?
The most common non-vegan clarification agents are egg whites (egg albumen), gelatine (protein from animals), isinglass (protein from fish bladders), casein (milk protein) and skim milk. Each agent impacts the wine differently and so a winemaker will choose one based upon the desired outcome for the wine.
Do vegan friendly clarification agents exist?
The answer is yes! In fact, there are a growing number of vegan friendly clarification, also known as fining, agents. Bentonite clay which is mostly used with white wines originates from volcanic ash. If used with red wines, it can negatively impact the colour. Carbon is also used but mostly for removing unpleasant aromas or flavours. It can also be used to remove browning colours from oxidation. Another popular agent is PVPP which is a synthetically based fining agent that is used to extract browning and pink colours in white wines.
How do I know if my wine is vegan friendly?
This is still a tricky situation because not all wines are labeled accordingly. However, once you do your research, you will find several vegan friendly wine producers. Hopefully, vegan wines will be better labelled to meet consumers needs and growing demands!