It wasn’t until I started selling wine with Scout & Cellar that I learned that all wine is vegan. I always assumed it was – it’s made with grapes, right?
It turns out that not all wines are vegan due to a clarifying process called “fining”. All young wines are hazy and contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are completely natural and not harmful, however many wine-drinkers prefer wine to be clear and bright.
Most wines, if bottle-aged long enough, will self-stabilize and self-fine. However, producers use a variety of aids called “fining agents” to remove these haze-inducing molecules. Essentially, the fining agent acts like a magnet – attracting the molecules around it. These molecules coagulate around the fining agent, creating fewer but larger particles, which can then be more easily removed during filtration. Commonly-used fining agents include casein (a milk protein), chitin (fiber from crustacean shells), egg albumin (egg whites), fish oil, gelatin (animal protein), isinglass (fish bladder protein) and bentonite (clay).
These fining agents are not additives to the wine: they are filtered out along with the haze molecules. Wines fined with casein and albumin are consistent with vegetarian diets while wines fined with any of the others may be off limits for strict vegans.
There is no easy way to know if the wine is vegan or not, if it’s important to you, the best way to find out is to ask the producer or the distributor.