What the Heck is Vegan Wine?

By Chere Di Boscio

By now, we all know what vegan leather is, and can usually tell the difference between that and dead animal leather. But vegan food can be a bit of a landmine: does that cheese-less pizza have egg in its base? Does that vegetarian curry have cream lurking in the sauce? Or perhaps some ghee? Is that sugar-free muffin sweetened with honey?

As a lifelong vegetarian, I thought I knew about vegan’s needs pretty well – that is, until I had dinner with one who asked for vegan wine. At first I thought he was taking the mickey – what the heck is vegan wine? How could that even exist, since all wine is, by definition, obviously made of grapes? But then he enlightened me on a few fishy facts about booze.

Beyond Grapes

For example, he told me that the winemaking process often involves loads of animal parts, including eggs, blood, oils, bone marrow and gelatin – which we all know is found in animal bones and hooves. During the winemaking process, the grapey liquid is filtered through substances called “fining agents.” This process is used to remove protein, yeast, cloudiness, “off” flavours and colourings, and other organic particles – but those agents are never on the label. In fact, they’re often considered to be trade secrets!

Amanda Thomson of Thomson & Scott Skinny Prosecco & Champagne explains that a typical bottle of champagne or prosecco  may have been made with up to 60 additives, including egg white (used as a fining agent), milk products (to adjust flavours) and gelatine to clarify the champagne or prosecco. Bull’s blood was traditionally used as a filtration method, and sometimes still is. In fact, the use of fish products in the wine making process is still so common, it’s required now for vineyards to state on the label whether fish was used, to warn those with fish allergies from buying a bottle.

Basically, non-vegan wine can use or even directly contain:

  • bones
  • egg white
  • gelatine
  • milk
  • fish scales
  • blood
  • bone marrow
  • fish oil

So how are you to know whether the wine or champagne you love is cruelty-free? There’s basically only one way – ensure it’s labelled as vegan. As mentioned, there’s no requirement for vineyards to list all the ingredients in the bottle, nor do they need to inform you of the process their wine undertakes before reaching the consumer’s table. Vegan wine brands, on the other hand, are proudly cruelty-free and will say so on the label.

What the Heck is Vegan Wine

Not Just Wine

Moving away from the grape, here’s an interesting fact: even beer isn’t always vegan friendly. For example, did you know that Guinness isn’t vegan friendly because it uses isinglass, which is made from the swim bladders of fish. Although there isn’t a trace of it in the beer, it is used directly in the process of making the drink.

And what about mixers for your spirits? Wanna know why Minute Maid’s grapefruit looks so “ruby red”? It’s from cochineal  (otherwise known as carmine, carminic acid, or Natural Red 4). Because this dye is made  from an insect called the cochineal, it isn’t, of course, vegan friendly in any way. Make sure to check the label on any red-hued products you might be using since there’s a possibility, cochineal is one of the ingredients.

The good news is that almost all spirits are vegan, and vegans can certainly find an increasing number of brands they can enjoy, including all those on the list below.

What the Heck is Vegan Wine

Vegan Wine Brands To Try

Do you know of any other great vegan wines we missed? Let us know in the comments section. Cheers!

Chere Di Boscio
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