Those trying to follow a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle know all too well how careful you have to be, negotiating this animal product-packed world we live in. Things you would never have imagined would contain animal traces, do- sometimes without any clear reason whatsoever. Products that have been safe in the past don’t necessarily stay that way, either, as companies change their recipes over time.
And now, it transpires, everyone’s favourite fruit-based ‘adult’ drink is under the microscope, to a lot of people’s horror. Many people have no idea that a lot of wine isn’t even vegetarian, let alone vegan. It’s just grapes, right? Guess again.
To make wine, yeast is added to grapes and left to ferment for a period of time. Alcohol is produced when the yeast eats the grapes sugars, and this stops either when the yeast eat all the sugar and die, the producers halt the fermentation, or the alcohol content rises above a certain percentage. In all cases, what you end up with is wine with a lot of, well, bits floating around in it. In most cases, dead yeast cells, along with organic impurities and proteins, must be removed before the wine can be bottled and sold to consumers.
To do this, winemakers must use what’s called a fining agent. Traditional options involved gelatine (bone bits), isinglass (fish swim bladders), chitosan (shrimp), casein (milk proteins) and egg whites. It’s all removed before bottling, but it’s pretty gross nonetheless, even for non-vegans, and because these materials are used in the making process, it still renders a lot of wines unethical for vegan lifestyles.
There are a variety of animal-friendly alternatives that winemakers can use instead, however- such as clays, gels, vegetable-based proteins and plaques- and many are starting to. They also have the option of letting the wine settle naturally (which is rather time-consuming) or selling their wine unfiltered. Many wine buffs out there have a taste for unfiltered/unfined wines, however, so they are on the market. The general problem is that there is no consistent law in play which requires winemakers to declare fining agents on their bottles, which can make finding ethical wines in a supermarket a little tricky.
Oh, if only there was a blog out there, dedicated to researching and reviewing a bunch of wines, so you don’t have to….