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How Is Vegan Wine Different From Non-Vegan Wine?

As a vegan, you have to carefully scrutinise the ingredients list of every single food and beverage that you buy. Even things that appear perfectly vegan at first glance can easily hide animal products and by products, including wine.

It’s only natural to assume that all wine is vegan. After all, you get it through a simple fermentation of the grapes; there’s no need to add any animal products to it, is there? – Unfortunately, you’d be surprised.

Your favourite wine might not be as vegan-friendly as you’d like it, and the worst part is that the label doesn’t even have to state the fact.


What is non-vegan in wine?

Traditionally, all you’d need is some grapes and some yeast to get wine. The yeast turns the sugars from the grapes into alcohol, starting the fermentation in a completely vegan-friendly way. However, the problem arises during the wine fining process.

In the first stages of fermentation, wine is hazy, off-coloured, and often slightly bitter. You’d notice small particles floating around in the liquid – tannins, phenolics, proteins, and tartrates. While not a single one of these particles is harmful, they affect the taste, texture, and aroma of the wine, so they need to be removed.

You can do this in one of two ways – leave the wine to clarify itself with time or filter (aka fine) it.

Natural clarification is a lengthy, vegan-friendly process that can take months, making it difficult for winemakers to efficiently move their products from the vineyards to your glass. Therefore, many of them go for the latter option and use fining agents to ensure that you get your favourite bottle as quickly as possible.

These fining agents present a problem for vegans as they’re often made from animal products.


Animal products that could end up in non-vegan wine

A range of animal products could end up in your non-vegan wine, including:

Egg whites: Egg whites bind with harsh tannins in wine and settle at the bottom of the barrel, making them easy to remove before bottling. They soften the wine, making it less bitter and acidic;

Casein:  The primary milk protein, casein is commonly used for clarifying white wines, preventing them from browning;

Isinglass:  A dried swim bladder of fish, isinglass removes solid particles from white wine, leaving it perfectly clear;

Gelatine:  Made from animal hides, boiled bones, and connective tissue, the gelatine removes the bitterness from red wines and brightens the colour of white wines.

After fining, the wine will go through a filtering process to remove these animal products. Still, that doesn’t make the wine any more vegan.

Additionally, winemakers are only required to disclose allergen information on the label. They don’t have to specify all the animal products that the wine has come in contact with during fining.


Vegan wine clarifying process

Although most winemakers use animal-derived fining agents to clarify their wines, plenty of those go the vegan way. Some of the typical vegan alternatives to the animal products mentioned above include:

Carbon: Removes unpleasant flavours and odours, and prevents wine discolouration – excessive colouring in red wine and browning or pinking in white wine;

Bentonite: A type of clay, bentonite removes proteins in white wine;

Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP): A synthetic polymer, PVPP reduces browning and acidity levels in white wines while preserving the unique aroma.

Considering that the number of vegans in Great Britain is rising (exceeding 600,000 as of 2019), many winemakers have started to adopt vegan fining practices. You’ll commonly find a “vegan wine” label on all organic wines made with vegan ingredients only. If there’s no label, tread with caution or ask the wine merchant whether their product is suitable for vegans.


The flavour of vegan wine

One of the greatest concerns for most connoisseurs considering switching to vegan wines is whether the taste is different. The good news is that it’s not.

Whether a winemaker uses vegan or non-vegan fining agents, they both reduce unwanted bitter flavours with similar efficiency. Moreover, all wines go through a filtering process after fining to remove the fining agents, so there’ll be no residue that could impact the flavour or aroma of your favourite wine.

The only difference between non-vegan and vegan wine is that the latter contains no animal products whatsoever. The flavour profile, aroma, and texture remain unchanged.


Other things you’ll need to pay attention to

If you want to enjoy 100% vegan wine, it’s not only the fining process you’ll need to consider. You’ll want to learn more about the winemaker’s farming process.

Some winemakers could use animal products like bone meal, feather meal, and fish meal fertilisers. Talk to your wine merchant to learn more about the winemakers’ farming practices and determine whether their vegan wine is 100% vegan.


Final thoughts

Vegan wine has a rich, fantastic flavour and aroma. The only difference between vegan and non-vegan wine is the use (or avoidance) of animal-derived fining agents and fertilisers. You can still enjoy your go-to wine to its fullest without missing any of its qualities by going vegan.