Vegetarianism and veganism are no longer complicated and awkward diet choices, and the growth in their popularity means that there is far more knowledge and therefore options for those committed to the diet. That does not mean, however, that everything is suddenly simple and easy. Even with the world of wine, the vegetarian is not always safe. This has nothing to do with the product itself but (depending on the winery) the process of fining the wine.
What is Fining?
For those who don’t know, fining is the process of removing any unwanted particles from the wine and therefore helping to clarify it. It works by adding a ‘fining agent’ which attaches to the suspended particles in the wine (such as proteins and tartrates) and causes a reaction which will precipitate them out of the liquid. These, now larger, particles are then far more easily removed via filtering, or simply by falling to the bottom of the vessel.
What may shock you, is that some wineries use animal-based products for their fining agents and therefore prevent their wine from being suitable to vegetarians and vegans. These fining agents could be gelatin (which is a product of the collagen from various animal bones and parts) or isinglass (which is obtained from the bladders of fish). Although all the particles (including the fining agents) are removed from the product, animal products are still used and therefore must be listed as unsuitable. If you are a vegan, there are even more worries, for some alternate fining agents are made from animal products such as casein (milk-based) or albumen (egg whites).
So, Why Fine?
The proteins, tartrates, and other organic particles are actually harmless to us and do not need to be removed. In fact, some wineries leave the product as it is without fining and embrace the natural sediment. Wine, however, is typically expected to be bright and clear, and so that’s the way most are made. Let’s face it, floating and suspended particles do not exactly make for an appealing looking drink. It is more than just for looks though. Wineries use fining agents to adjust the smell and taste of their product too. Your favourite wine may have that beautifully rich or light flavour due to its fining process: changing that agent may affect how the wine tastes. Fining is also incredibly efficient. Some wineries allow their wines to fine themselves and precipitate the particles without the help of an agent, however that takes a very long time. The agents essentially accelerate the process.
Each fining agent is better at things than others (some wineries even use a mixture for their ideal results). Gelatin, for example, is a great agent for clarification and removing bitter tastes in white wine, whereas casein is good for preventing the oxidation of white wine and avoids the chance of over-fining (destabilising the wine’s proteins). This would explain why some wineries still prefer to use gelatin or isinglass over friendlier products: to create the ideal look and taste of their wine.
Yet, Fining can be Fine
Being vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean wine is suddenly off the table though. The good news is there are fining agents that are completely appropriate for both vegetarians and vegans. These agents are made from natural minerals such as bentonite (clay based) and carbon (sourced from charcoal). All in all, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about your wine as a vegetarian or vegan, for both these agents are commonly used by wineries to make their product more accessible to a wider audience. Also, as I said before, the animal products are actually removed from the final product so there is no need to worry in that retrospect (you won’t be consuming anything prohibited).
If, however, your diet choice is based on moral reasoning and/or you find yourself still sceptical of your wines’ content then simply start by checking the label. It is not necessary for wineries to state their fining process on the bottle, but you’ll find that some (especially those that are 100% vegetarian/vegan-friendly) will let you know. If you’re still unsure, then a little bit of research will easily help. Here at Rude Wines, they actually tell you whether your wine is vegetarian or vegan (or neither) at each ‘wine details’ page, so you should never be in doubt.
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