Considering that fundamentally, wine is made from grapes, water and yeast, it can be surprisingly difficult to find a decent bottle that is vegan-friendly. Whilst most wine bottle labels will proudly inform you of everything down to the side of the hill the grapes were harvested from, finding out if it is suitable for a vegan lifestyle is essentially hit and miss. This is mostly down to the fact that whilst the ingredients are free from animal products, the winemaking process is not.
If left to its own devices, young wine is naturally quite cloudy. In the process of turning from grape juice into wine, naturally formed molecules of proteins, tannins and the like, make the liquid hazy. Whilst these minute molecules are harmless, they don’t make the wine look that appetising. Think old-fashioned scrumpy rather than bright crisp Sauvignon.
There are only two ways to solve this problem. The first is to leave the wine well alone to stabilise and clear naturally – self-fining. Unfortunately, this can take years and so winemakers generally like to help the process along by adding outside agents to clarify the wine; a process called fining.
Thankfully, using animal blood to fine red wines is all but extinct, however, the most popular fining agents are still made from animal products. Notably, milk based casein, albumin from eggs, animal gelatine or isinglass, which is made from fish. These agents are added to the wine where they act as magnets, sticking to the unwanted molecules making them large and heavy. The now bright, clear liquid is syphoned off leaving the gloopy sediment behind.
The very use of these agents make the wine non-vegan friendly, indeed, as there is a risk that a residual amount could remain in the wine, it is also off limits to vegetarians.
Happily, some winemakers are now addressing the issue by using other agents such as clay-based bentonite and activated charcoal. Wheat is also a very good fining agent, but whilst being vegan-friendly, isn’t good for anyone on a gluten-free diet.
Unlike gluten, there is no legal requirement for the fining agent to be listed on the label, nor indeed, if the wine is safe for a vegetarian or vegan diet. The only way you can tell if the wine is suitable is if the winemaker says so; look for ‘Vegan-Friendly’ on the label or ask the winery to tell you what fining agents they use. On rare occasions, you may also find the words ‘Non Filtered’ or ‘Not Fined’ on the label. In this case, the winemaker has ditched the fining agents entirely, opting to leave the wine to self-clarify naturally.
Obviously, if you have a good wine supplier, they will have done all the research for you. Not wishing to blow our own trumpet, you’ll notice there are over 100 vegan certified wines on the Rude Wines list!
Just because a wine is vegan, doesn’t mean the quality or flavour is in any way altered or impaired; however, matching the delicate flavours of vegan dishes does require thought. Raw vegetable dishes work well with lighter whites such as the unusual Tasmanian Tamar Ridge Riesling 2015 yet heartier dishes with lentils and beans would be complemented by the Jean Loron Morgon Les Charmes 2014.
The wonderful thing is that there is actually so much choice out there, just hover over the ‘Browse Wines’ and tap ‘Vegan Wines’. You’ll be glad you did.
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