Vegan wine is wine where no animal-based fining agent is used during the clarification process.
As we have seen in our exploration of natural wine, wine in its purest form is in fact fermented grape juice. So why are some wines not vegan? To answer this question we need to take a step back and look at the wine clarification process. Most wines undergo the clarification process, with the exception of unfined and unfiltered wines.
The main goal of clarification is to free the wine from suspended solid matter. The result is a clear wine where the number of solid particles is negligible. Clarification is carried out in two complementary and successive phases:
1 Fining wine: the addition of a fining agent, which combines with solid particles in the wine forming an easy to remove compound.
2 Filtering wine: removing the compound formed by the fining agent, separating solid matter from liquid matter.
1 Wine fermenting with sediment: dead yeast cells, grape skin, pips, stem bits, solid particles.
2 Fining agents are added to the wine in liquid or powder form. Fining agents can be animal-based.
3 Fining agents combine with solid particles creating compounds easier to filter.
The culprit in non-vegan wine is the fining agent, which can often be animal-based. If a wine has been fined with one of the following animal-based fining agents, it cannot be considered vegan. Unfined and unfiltered wines, such as most natural wines, are therefore vegan-friendly.
Egg white is a fining agent that can be used in the clarification and stabilization of wine. Egg white is widely used and it's very effective especially for red wines.
Egg white is the fining agent of choice to reduce tannins - which cause that sensation of astringency - in red wines made from highly tannic grape varietals.
Casein is a milk protein that when dissolved in wine combines with solid matter and precipitates particles in suspension.
Casein is used mostly to clarify white wines which tend to oxidize more quickly than red wines, turning shades of brown.
Gelatin is made from boiling animal tissues, is a very common fining agent for red wines. Gelatin is added to the wine in crystals.
Isinglass is a gelatin made from fish gal bladder used primarily for clarifying white wines.
In addition to animal-based fining agents, which we have introduced in the previous paragraph, there are several other non-animal-based fining agents. These are either plant-based - extracted from algae or in the case of tannins from grape skins - or synthetic.
Clarifying wine is a very common practice in modern winemaking. Most of the wines made conventionally are clear from suspended solid matter and bottles tend not to have any deposit.
However, we shall briefly explore the drawbacks of clarification - this will also allow us to understand why natural winemakers tend to avoid it altogether. That's right, natural wines are often unfined and unfiltered.
Clarification has substantial consequences on the three following components, which give a wine its true character and contribute to its overall health:
► Tannins: they are responsible for a wine's structure and capacity to age, acting as preservatives.
► Pigmentation: the result of clarification is often an adulteration of a wine's natural color.
► Yeasts, enzymes, and other bacteria: they act as stabilizers and contribute greatly to the taste of a wine.
On the other hand, supporters of clarification claim that unfined and unfiltered wines, aside from being hazy, might cause digestive problems for consumers or might display significant flaws.
While there is no scientific or empirical basis for anyone to say that unfined and unfiltered wines are not healthy for wine drinkers, if anything quite the opposite, it is common knowledge that clarification is used to correct deeply flawed wines.
Vegan wines are not hard to find but they are not the most common wines on the market. At Primalwine.com we take pride in scouting specifically for vegan wines. As a rule of thumb, natural, biodynamic, and organic wines are also vegan - especially natural wines, which are unfined and unfiltered - after all, natural winemakers' motto is "nothing added, nothing removed!"
If you were not aware that wine can be non-vegan, we hope that after reading this article you will be able to make more informed choices when purchasing wine. However, should you have doubts about any of our products or need clarifications - no pun intended - feel free to contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org.