What is vegan wine?
Why isn't all wine vegan?
Winemaking is a process with a deep history and culture, and that history includes using fining agents with animal products to improve the clarity and appearance of the wine.
The winemaking process starts with fermentation. Fermentation is the part of the winemaking process where the natural sugars of the grapes are converted into alcohol. The fruit juice goes into a fermentation tank where yeast grows, the yeast triggers the reaction in the sugar, resulting in wine at the end of it. It’s at this stage that molecules can appear in the wine, causing it to be hazy in appearance.
All of these molecules are natural by-products of the winemaking process and are completely harmless to consume. There’s actually nothing wrong with drinking a cloudy wine. However, in a society where aesthetics really matter, winemakers know that they can’t ship their wine without it being crystal clear in appearance. The only way to do this is by extracting the molecules using fining agents.
Many of the fining agents that were traditionally used contained animal products. For red wine, it has historically always been egg whites (known as albumin), while for white wine it was milk protein (known as casein).
Once the fining process has been complete, the agents used are removed. Whether that’s the egg whites or milk protein, once they’ve done their job they are removed from the finished product. However, due to the nature of wine, tiny traces of the animal product can be absorbed, thus making it non-vegan. It’s important to remember that the likes of albumin and casein are processing agents, not additives to the wine, so they may not be clearly listed on the label.
What is the difference between vegan wine, natural wine and biodynamic wine?
Vegan wines are made with the intent of not using animal byproducts in the winemaking process. There is no ‘official’ designation for vegan wines, as there is a possibility of insects living in the vines and on the grapes; but again, the intent is to not have this happen or to use animal byproducts in the winemaking process.
Natural wine is wine made with minimal chemical and technological intervention, both in growing grapes and making them into wine. The term is used to distinguish such wine from organic wine and biodynamic wine because of differences in cellar practices.
Biodynamic wines are wines made employing the pseudo-scientific biodynamic methods both to grow the fruit and during the post-harvest processing.
Merchant of Wine's Top Vegan Wine Brands
If you're looking for some great vegan wine you can feel comfortable splurging on the options below! These wines are made without fining agents that come from animal products.
Alois Lageder Riff, Pinot Grigio, Veneto, Italy, 2019
Castel La Vie Blanc Du Castel, Israel, 2019 (Kosher, Vegan)
Castiglion del Bosco "Gauggiole" Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy, 2016
Château Roumieu, Sauternes, France, 2016
Donkey and Goat, "The Gallivanter" Red Blend, California, 2019
Fento, Bico da Ran Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain, 2020 by Eulogio Pomares
M. Chapoutier Crozes Hermitage Varonniers, Rhône, France, 2016
M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage Petite Ruche, Rhône, France, 2016
Palisades "No Curfew" Pinot Noir, California, 2019
Querciabella, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy, 2016
Tellurian Wines, Tranter Shiraz, Heathcote, Australia, 2017
Tulip, Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, Galilee, Israel, 2014
Txomin Etxaniz Winery, Rosé, Getariako Txakolina, Spain, 2018