What Makes Wine Vegan? A Vegan Wine Guide
At Mai Vino, we value quality, affordability, and inclusivity. As a result, we craft vegan wines with organically grown grapes fermented with indigenous yeast. Although most people don’t know that wines are not vegan, they are often made with animal products during the fining process
While most customers might not be vegan, some may be allergic to these animal products. At Mai Vino, we want to ensure our wines are enjoyed by all, so we make it a point to be transparent with our ingredients.
With the help of companies like Mai Vino, vegan wines have become increasingly popular, allowing a larger audience to enjoy these sophisticated wines. These days, more and more winemakers from places like California, Chile, and Italy are embracing vegan wine production.
Isn’t All Wine Vegan?
Believe it or not, most wines on the market today are not vegan. As a general rule of thumb, unless a wine’s bottle is marked as vegan, the wine uses animal products like gelatin, albumin, casein, and isinglass to remove floating particles from the wine.
Many people believe that the wine making process is as simple as harvesting grapes, macerating them, and fermenting them with yeast for some time. This process is in and of itself vegan. However, this overlooks a crucial part of the wine making process: vinification and fining.
When wine is fermented, yeast turns sugar inside the grapes into alcohol. This process leaves behind a few byproducts. These sediments are usually phenolics, gluten, tartrates, sulfites, and proteins. Unfortunately, these little molecules will distort the color and flavor of the wine if left untouched. So, winemakers use a process known as “fining” to remove the particles and clear up the wine.
Even natural winemakers who use biodynamic grapes usually use the fining process. As you may have guessed, many winemakers use animal products during the fining process.
How the Fining Process Uses Animal Products
Understanding, the fining process is vital to understanding why most wines aren’t vegan. As mentioned above, wine needs to undergo the fining process while it is in the cellars to remove impure particles that cloud the color and clarity of the wine. The wine will eventually clear itself on its own, but this process needs to be sped up for business purposes.
To force fining to occur, winemakers will use “fining aids.” Fining aids are designed to chemically attract the cloudy proteins and muck left behind from the yeast, making them much easier to remove.
Unfortunately, traditional fining agents are almost all animal-based products. Some of the most popular fining agents include albumin, a.k.a. egg whites, casein, a.k.a. cow milk protein, isinglass, a.k.a. fish bladder, and gelatin, a.k.a. animal protein. After the fining process, these agents are removed, but traces remain in the wine, excluding it from being vegan.
Although this may seem like a random list of products (who wants fish bladder wine?!), these animal-based components are used because of their unique molecular makeup, which helps them attract the specific molecules that need to be removed to finish the wine.
Vegan Fining Techniques
Luckily, several vegan fining techniques that use plant-based fining agents exist. All wines would eventually find themselves out if left on their own, but this is unprofitable for vegan winemakers.
Vegan winemakers use products like bentonite clay, pea proteins, and activated charcoal to fine their wines. These are more expensive and time-consuming options than animal products, but they produce a vegan-friendly wine that can be sold for a premium.
Types of Vegan Wine
Luckily for vegan wine-drinkers, nearly all types of wine can be made vegan. Some of the best vegan wines include red wines like pinot noir, Tempranillo, Shiraz, Syrah, cabernet sauvignon, Bordeaux, merlot, malbec, and various red blends.
Vegan white wines like zinfandel, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot grigio, and more are also available. Companies have even started to make bubbly vegan sparkling wines like champagne, rosé, brut, and prosecco.