Ever heard of “fining“? Neither had I until coming across vegan wine at the grocery store. Embarrassingly enough, I thought to myself “Isn’t wine was already vegan?”
Fining has to do with clarifying the wine. Why do they manually clarify wine instead of leaving it to the wine’s natural process? Because people want that clear, beautiful, dark red that is so admired. The natural murkiness/haziness of a young wine is caused by different tannins, proteins, tartrates and phenolics. Gradually, during the life of the wine, the murkiness would subside, BUT companies want to speed up this process- that’s where fining comes into play.
Why isn’t wine vegan?
Many of the fining agents can be animal-derived.
- Blood & bone marrow
- Casein – a milk protein
- Chitin – fiber from crustacean shells
- Egg albumen – from egg whites
- Gelatin – protein as a result from boiled animal parts
- Isinglass – gelatin from fish bladders
- Fish oil
Sounds fishy, no?
When the fining agents are added to the wine, the molecules contributing to the murkiness coagulate around the agent. Wine makers are able to remove the large bits, but it is natural for them not to get everything. Which, in turn, makes wine not vegan.
What to do?
The industry seems to be paying more attention to the demand for vegan wine and alternatives are being used for fining agents. These include;
- Bentonite clay
- Kaolin clay
- Plant casein
- Silica gel
- Vegetable Plaques
Some winemakers are even taking steps to let their wines self-stabilize, meaning they do not use additives to alter the appearance. Usually these wines will be labeled with a “not fined or filtered”.
Smaller wine shops and co-ops will have great recommendations on what wines are vegan friendly. I have yet to find a wine with a nutritional label on the back, but there is lobbying taking place to make this change! So TBD on that. Some bigger grocery stores have started advertising on their store labels.
PETA recommends the this website for a comprehensive list. It is perfect when standing in the wine aisle trying to make a decision!