Updated: Jan 9, 2020
With the rise of veganism around the world and in particular in the UK it is important that vegans around the country understand the contents of the food and drink they consume.
With Veganuary recently coming to a close and proving more popular than ever (2018 saw 168,000 participants, up from 3,300 at its inception in 2014) it appears veganism is experiencing an unstoppable rise.
That leads us to think about the contents of our favourite drink at Copa – wine.
What the fuck is vegan wine? Isn’t all wine vegan? It’s just grapes isn’t it?
It is easy to understand the confusion. Wine-making is a seriously complex process with different methods, approaches and legal requirements adopted by different wine-makers around the world.
Even world renowned ‘know it all’ Piers Morgan got confused recently when he tweeted his disgust over the iconic Taittinger champagne house confirming all of their wines are vegan friendly. He was quickly put in his place by quick witted twitter users with various historical images of Piers enjoying a wide selection of vegan wines!
So what makes a wine vegan?
Whilst all wines share the common fact that they are made primarily from fermented grapes it is a particular procedure during the wine making process that defines whether a wine can be classified as vegan.
Most consumers like their wines clear and free of any hazy substances or suspended solids. In order to achieve this, a process called fining is introduced to remove any unwanted compounds, yeast, off flavours or haziness. The fining agent essentially acts as a magnet to attract and collect undesirable molecules and haze to create larger molecules that can be easily filtered out of the wine.
It is the inclusion of this fining agent that would cause particular concern to vegans.
The most commonly used fining agents are albumin (egg whites), casein (a milk protein), isinglass (fish bladder protein), chitin (fibre from crustacean shells), gelatin (animal protein) and blood and bone marrow.
Whilst these are not additives and are filtered away with the rest of the un-wanted compounds there could be tiny traces of the fining agent absorbed into the wine.
It is therefore impossible for any winery using these agents in the process to confirm their wines are vegan friendly.
Despite this there are two reasons for vegans to feel positive about the future of the wine industry in relation to veganism;
1. There has been a clear rise in the use of non-animal by-products for use as a fining agent. With the increased success of these agents it makes sense for all winemakers to follow suit. Why use an animal by-product and exclude an ever increasing demographic of wine consumers when there are perfect alternatives that perform the same role!? These alternatives include clay-based agents such as bentonite, carbon, limestone, plant casein and activated charcoal which are all vegan and vegetarian friendly. Easy.
2. There has also been a clear rise in the natural wine movement around the world. In wine circles you will commonly hear phrases such as minimal intervention, low added sulphur and unfined and unfiltered. This essentially means that the particular winemaker has chosen to allow the grape and terroir of the land they were grown on to be the protagonists of the wine. By allowing nature to take control of the end product the winemaker allows the wine to portray a truer reflection of the land rather than manually manipulating it during the winemaking process. Part of this will often mean the winemaker does not fine or filter the wine, they believe by doing so they strip out essential characteristics of the final product. No fining = no fining agents = no risk for vegans!
The main problem we have is that there are no legal requirements to state on the label that a particular wine is vegan friendly.
Whilst many wineries do include this it is not essential.
There are many ways you can find out if a wine is vegan –friendly
1. Check the labels. Many wineries confirm on the label if they are suitable for vegans
2. Check the labels. If the label states un-fined and unfiltered you’re good to go.
3. Shop at your local independent wine store. These guys choose every element of their stock and understand the wine making process that goes into their wines and can usually tell you pretty quickly which wines are suitable.
4. Do your research online. Websites such as Barnivore are superb in providing an online directory of vegan wines.
5. Ask us at Copa Wine. We may not know the answer straight away but we’re happy to help get you the answer