You might assume that all wines are vegan friendly. Isn’t wine just made from fermented grape juice?
So where does the animal become involved in the wine making process?
The reason that all wines are not vegan or vegetarian-friendly is due a process called ‘fining’. All young wines contain tiny murky particles, all natural such as tannin, tartrates and phenols and over time the wine will self-clear. However, winemakers like to speed the process up and do so by fining the wine. Fining also removes unwanted molecules that filtration cannot remove, these molecules can often leave a taint in the wine which the winemaker wants removed before the bottle is opened.
The fining agent when added to the wine acts like a magnet and attracts the hazy molecules. These become bigger and are easily removed, so, unluckily for vegans some fining agents can be animal based, though bulls blood was banned by the EU after the BSE crisis, other agents are still allowed such as casein (a milk protein), isinglass (fish bladders), gelatine, and albumen (egg whites).
Fining with casein and albumen is normally acceptable to vegetarians but all four are a no for vegans. The finning agent are not additives to the wine as they are filtered out with the hazy molecules, however tiny traces of the fining agent maybe absorbed into the wine during the fining process.
What complicates the issue further is there is no requirement for the wine maker to state on the label what fining agent was used. Therefore, it’s down to the wine retailer or restaurateur to know what has been used for fining and the only way they can know is to ask the winemaker.
Many wine makers now use a clay based agent called bentonite which is vegan friendly and in recent years’ winemakers have moved to more natural methods, allowing wines to self-fine. It will normally mention on the label that the wine was unfiltered or may contain sediment.