Wine is of course initially vegan, since it is just fermented grape juice. But with modern winemaking methods it has become practice to use different processing aids to help treat the wine. The category casing the most debate here is fining agents, especially since many of the substances used are sourced from animal-based origins.
Fining agents are completely unnecessary and can even result in loss of structure and delicate aromas, but because of public demand for crystal clear wine, the norm among producers is still to use it, despite its many drawbacks. Most quality wine producers would happily skip this step, since it a time consuming and expensive process, but as long as consumers are upset by sediment in the bottle, it will remain the standard.
Fining agents are not an actual ingredient in the wine, it is only classified as processing aids and there should technically never be any traces of them in the finished wine, but since many of them are allergens, some countries now demand that they are written out on the label, since it is hard to guarantee that no traces of the substance is left in the wine. And for conscious consumers, who wants to ensure that no animals have suffered in the making of their wine, the category “Vegan Wine” is now quickly gaining popularity.
Common animal-based fining agents are:
- Ox blood: Which is forbidden in most countries now because of health risks
- Egg white: Still commonly used (mainly now as a purified powder) especially for fine red wines
- Gelatine: Made from boiling animal skins and bones, very common aid
- Isinglass: The swim-bladder from sturgeon and other fish (also very popular for beer making)
- Casein: Protein derived from milk, sometimes replaced with skimmed milk
Many companies now market their wines as Vegan, and even far more wines are actually produced completely vegan, but without being marketed as such. Popular demand is quickly changing the market, and more and more producers look to vegan fining agents to process their wines (or simply skip fining altogether). Since the fining process is a complicated chemical procedure, it is not simply replacing one fining agent with another, they all have their pros and cons. But with current demand, new cruelty and allergen free alternatives are hitting the market every week.
Within the next decade, vegan wines will most likely become the norm, with a few stubborn winemakers still sticking with their animal-based fining agents.
Here’s to the future!