Vino for Veggies

The food, wine & lifestyle blog for Vegans, Vegetarians, Pescitarians, and other Awesome People.

Is There Meat in My Wine? June 25, 2010

This may seem like a ridiculous question, but actually not all wines are vegetarian and even fewer are vegan.  How is this possible?  Aren’t wines made with fermented grape juice? Why are winemakers throwing animals is our tasty beverages?

Well, there isn’t actually meat in the wine, but a number of animal derived products are used for fining a wine.  Fining is the process of adding a reactive agent to a wine to reduce or remove soluble particles thereby clarifying the wine.  Common products used to fine wines include following:

  1. Gelatin – derived from bones (not vegetarian)
  2. Isinglass – derived from the air bladder of a sturgeon (not vegetarian or Kosher)
  3. Casein – protein derived from milk (vegetarian, but not vegan)
  4. Egg Albumen – derived from eggs whites (vegetarian, but not vegan)
  5. Bentonite – a clay-like material (vegan friendly)
  6. Dried Bull’s Blood Powder – an old school method, banned in the US and EU, but still used in some Mediterranean countries (just gross)

Fortunately, only trace amounts, if any, of fining agents are left in a wine.  During the wine making process wines are racked, which means that the wine is poured from one barrel to another leaving sediment and fining agents behind—consider it an industrial scale decanting.

Unfortunately, in the US, winemakers are not obligated to label their wines as vegetarian or vegan friendly.  So how do you know if your wine is Veggie friendly?  Here is a simple guide:

  1. Look for unfined/unfiltered wines.  This style of wine is becoming more popular as a natural and purer form of wine making.  They also are vegan friendly since no fining agent is used in the wine.  Just be prepared that your wine may be cloudy and throw sediment.  To minimized the sediment in your glass you can decant your wine or set the bottle upright an hour before drinking to let the sediment settle to the bottom.
  2. Drink red wines. Red wines are often filtered (a process that does not involve animal products), but less likely than whites to be fined because clarity is less of a need in reds.
  3. Drink wines from smaller producers. Smaller producers are more likely to make unfined/unfiltered wines.  Larger producers tend to make wines for the mass market, which demands a clearer wine without sediments.  Many consumers mistakenly believe that sediment and cloudiness in wines is a flaw.
  4. Organic and biodynamic wines do not mean Veggie friendly wines. Organic and biodynamic labels only indicate how the grapes were grown.  These wines can still be fined with animal products.
  5. Ask you local wine merchant. Your local wine shop should have an idea of what wines are vegetarian or vegan friendly.  If not, you may need to find a new wine shop that does.
  6. Use internet guides. There are websites that have lists of vegan and vegetarian friendly wines.  Two good sites are Barnivore and this vegan wine guide.
  7. Follow Vino for Veggies wine reviews. I’m going to make an effort on future posts to list whether the wines I review are vegan/vegetarian or not.  Often times this requires contacting the winery directly and hoping you get a response back.

I will admit that I’m not very diligent on this issue in my wine purchases (I know it makes me a bad Veggie).  However, I believe I should be clearer on the Veggie friendliness of the wines I review for my Veggie readership.

Questions for my readers:  Do you care if your wine is veggie friendly?  What if there is no trace of animal fining agents left in the wine?  Please leave your responses in the comment section below.

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