What goes into your favourite wine?
Red grapes? A touch of nostalgia from a beloved Spanish holiday? How about egg whites, fish swim bladders or milk products?
You might not taste them, but these products are sometimes used in the wine production process. This means that, contrary to expectations, not all wines are suitable for vegetarians. In fact, Tesco found that only 50 percent of its own range was free from animal protein, while even fewer were vegan-friendly.
Although some red wines may have meaty tasting notes of leather or smoked meat, that’s not because they actually contain meat products.
The issue is fining. This is part of the production process that helps wine look clear, reducing unwanted flavours and even helping wine to taste smoother at a young age. Most winemakers use mineral products like bentonite but some use animal products such as isinglass (fish bladders), gelatin, milk protein and egg whites. Bull’s blood has been used in the past but it was recently banned by the EU.
While for some, the very suggestion of these ingredients is enough to send back the Shiraz, plenty of vegetarians choose to turn a blind eye to the use of animal products in winemaking. The quantities are small – say 15-120 mg/L of gelatine or 10-100 mg/L of isinglass – and by its very nature the fining material doesn’t remain in the wine, it precipitates or gets filtered out. Also, the majority of fining agents are vegetarian or vegan-friendly.
However, for those who prefer to be 100 percent free of any contact with animal products, there are plenty of exciting choices on the market.
Finding vegetarian and vegan wine
Whether you are vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan or you are just hosting a dinner party with specific dietary requirements, finding a suitable wine is possible. Why should anyone miss out on all the fun?
Thankfully, there are plenty of common fining agents that are animal-friendly. Many wine manufacturers use bentonite clay, limestone and other vegetarian ingredients for fining.
Alternatively, forgoing the fining process altogether is part of the ‘natural wine’ movement, which is becoming more popular. It is entirely possible to make a good wine without the use of fining agents.
The Food Standards Agency states that wines produced from the 2012 vintage onwards must declare the presence of certain allergens including some animal products on their labels if they are present in wine quantities greater than 0.25mg per litre.
Apart from this, there is no requirement to list fining agents on the label as they are not, technically, ingredients. So here are some clues to look out for:
- A vegetarian symbol. Some shops require this or add it to their house wines.
- The text ‘Suitable for vegetarians’ or ‘unfined’ on the back label.
- ‘Natural’ wine probably hasn’t been filtered or fined; it’ll be a bit cloudy and perhaps taste a little unfamiliar.
- Some winemakers publish detailed technical specifications on their website and these descriptions may state that the wine wasn’t fined or what fining agents were used, although this is rare.
- Search online services such as Barnivore, although you shouldn’t expect them to have a complete list.
Don’t assume that the absence of a ‘vegetarian’ label means that the wine was definitely in contact with animal products. We reckon that the majority of wines are fine for vegetarians but only a very small proportion are labelled that way.
Whether you love something sparkling, full-bodied or fruity, we all deserve to experience quality wine made by quality producers. To protect yourself from finding anything surprising in your Pinot or Chardonnay select your manufacturer with care. Choose small producers who favour quality over profit, steer clear of pesticides and treat their produce and customers with the utmost respect. This is our yardstick here at Vincarta.
Arming yourself with the knowledge of who’s making your wine allows you to come to informed decisions about what wine suits your unique needs. By reading up, paying attention to detail and asking questions directly to the supplier, you can have peace of mind when enjoying your next bottle.