Have you ever noticed “May contain milk, eggs or fish” on the back label of a wine bottle? Animal products and wine, what the heck? If you are not in the wine business, this probably comes as a big surprise. It did to me when I first learned about it. After all, wine is made from grapes. Why would it contain any milk, eggs or fish? The truth is, it could. So, if a vegan lifestyle is important to you or you have allergies, this information is good to know.
Near the end of the winemaking process, wine is cloudy and hazy. It is at this point when the fining process happens to make the wine bright and clear. Fining agents act like a magnet attracting and clinging to haze-inducing proteins and organic materials making the molecules larger and therefore more difficult to pass through a filter. The choice of fining agent lies in the hands of the winemaker and can be either a plant or animal product.
The most common animal fining agents are egg albumin (egg whites), casein (milk protein), gelatin (bone marrow), isinglass (fish bladders), and chitosan (crustacean shells). Some wineries make it easy with a ‘Vegan Friendly’ symbol on the back label. Vegans can breathe easy when they see it because they know for certain that the wine has been made using animal-free alternatives such as carbon, bentonite and poly-vinyl-poly-pyrrolidone (PVPP).
Another option is to look for a wine that is unfiltered and un-fined. In this case, time is the fining agent. By giving the wine more time to age, it self-clarifies, and all the unwanted particles gently settle to the bottom. If the wine is unfiltered, it will have a slightly cloudy appearance and some sediment in the bottle. Many wine experts feel that cloudy wine has more flavour. This slight difference in appearance may take a little getting used to but is a small price to pay for peace of mind. One of the easiest ways to find out if your favourite wine is vegan is to check out www.barnivore.com, a great resource for vegan-friendly beer, spirits and cider, too. The staff at your local wine shop can also be an untapped source of knowledge. Vegan wine is becoming more popular, so they might even have some hidden gems to share!
To get you started here is my short list of vegan-friendly wines:
- Sperling Vineyards and Summerhill Winery – British Columbia
- Benjamin Bridge – Nova Scotia
- Dog Point Vineyards– New Zealand
- Bodega Matsu – Spain
- Schug Estate Winery– California
- Yalumba – Australia
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