ALL WINE IS VEGAN, RIGHT?
When out with friends and perusing the wine list, do you check online to confirm if the wine you're choosing is and in fact vegan? When telling the bartender or server you are vegan and the response is, “well, wine is made from grapes, so it should be vegan.” While the statement’s fundamental logic is valid, it represents a lack of understanding behind the production and ingredients of items offered in food and beverage establishments. It was a teachable moment, and it should certainly not be the last time this conversation shoud be had.
Conversations such as these are much more commonplace for today’s food and beverage professionals. The rise of alternative diets, lifestyles, and medical conditions has increased tremendously over the past twenty years. This change has prompted legislation for truth in menu requirements to chain restaurants changing decades of tradition by offering alternatives to these growing populations. Some relevant stats to support these changes include:
· 10% of the population has diabetes
· IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) impacts 25 to 45 million people in the US, two-thirds of whom are female
· 4% - 6% follow a plant-based diet, and this market continues to grow
· 1% of the population has Celiac disease, and 4% have a wheat allergy
Many journeys to become vegan happen over time. Either by choice, health reasons or just to give a try as people are introduced to a more plant-based diets, gradually transitioning from a pescatarian to vegetarian to a vegan status. While many ingredients are researched and different methods of preparation of food has been studied for decades, production of alcoholic beverages are not so familiar. To get started on the subject, it's known that many French wines are not technically vegan due to ingredients such as gelatin and egg whites added during the processing. So when you are converting from vegetarian to vegan it begins a deeper dive into what was considered vegan, including wines.
While there are variations of plant-based diets, many have chosen to have focus on the vegan lifestyle, which is more comprehensive in avoiding the use or consumption of items derived from animal origins. Unaware to some vegans, they discover that many wines, including those in their wine collection, utilize animal products as part of processing.
Many winemakers will utilize a clarification or fining process, which dates back to at least Roman times. This process is designed to create a more appealing finished product. Indeed, WineMaker’s Magazine noted that wines that are not crystal clear are due to poor winemaking controls and would be “shunned by serious wine drinker” (Pambianchi, n.d.).
There are common fining agents, which include gelatin (made from skin, tendons, and muscle), casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), and isinglass (made from fish bladders). Other fining agents include protease Trypsin or Pepsin (protein from a pig’s or cow’s stomach, chitosan (carbohydrate from crustacean shells), and milk products. An interesting note is that Kosher wines, which require a strict process and use of kosher ingredients, use albumin in the process. Because the amounts of fining agents are so limited, the USDA does not require winemakers to denote the use of these products.
There are alternate fining agents used, such as Bentonite, activated charcoal, or PVPP, a synthetic option. Many winemakers are also switching to allow wines to self-clarify over time as a more natural approach that eliminates fining altogether. These wines may be listed as “unfined.” Some vineyards are beginning to self-identity and include information on the label.
So what does the fining process accomplish? In general, it helps removes particulates, decreases color, removes undesirable smells, and stabilizes the wine to prevent cloudiness. The following table outlines the impact and uses of the fining agents.
Based on two studies conducted in 2014, these ingredients are mostly removed during the final filtration and could not be significantly detected. Additionally, the study concluded low risk for individuals with allergies and sensitivities to those ingredients. At most, a few individuals experienced minimal side effects related to the fining agent, as shown in a 2011 study (Seladi-Schulman, 2019). Still, winemaker websites provide caution when using Chitosan due to potential allergic reactions. Regardless of the removal of animal-derived fining agents, the use of these products renders the final product unacceptable for many vegetarians and vegans.
There are options available for vegans and vegetarians who embrace a plant-based lifestyle extending beyond diet and still want to enjoy alcoholic beverages. First, the majority of liquor and liqueurs are entirely plant-based. There is even a vegan version of Irish Cream made with almond milk! Many local breweries are using more synthetic alternatives for the beer drinkers, and most of the significant American Beer producers such as Budweiser, Coors, and Miller are all vegan. Some excellent vegan beers include Lagunitas, Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo, and a personal favorite, Golden Monkey from Victory Brewing. In 2018 Guinness changed their processing,, no longer using isinglass, allowing vegans and vegetarians to enjoy a pint.
For wine, it can still be a bit of a challenge, especially when dining out. When you're sitting at the table perusing the wine list and checking online resources. Barnivore.com has an extensive database of beer, wine, and liquor and has been a reliable companion assisting in selection, but not all wines are listed. This resource, however, focuses on the fining process. There is also the question of utilizing vegan fertilizers. As the demand for plant-based alternatives continues to grow, so will the number of wineries. Some organizations, such as The BeVeg, are working with wineries and other businesses for certification for completely vegan products.
Often, individuals who do not understand a plant-based diet believe that something is missing or that the flavor would be adversely impacted. Whether you live the vegan lifestyle or not it can be assured taste is not lacking. Here are a few mainstream vegan options to consider:
· Champagne: Perrier Jouet (not Grand Brut), Piper Heidsieck, Veuve Clicquot
· Zinfandel (Red, not Pink!): Turley, Decoy
· Sauvignon Blanc: Justin, Trinchero Mary’s Vineyard
· Cabernet Sauvignon: Frey Vineyards, St. Francis
· Pinot Noir: Meiomi
· Chardonnay: La Crema
There are hundreds of alternatives from smaller vineyards featured on a variety of other websites. If you are interested in retail options, Trader Joe’s and Total Wine offer resources to help find vegan wines. Also, NakedWines offers a club option to support smaller winemakers who offer vegan wines, which was a great way to restock the refrigerator. Also, the VeganWine club can give many options to add to your collection!
CWA Staff (2018, March). Can Wines Be Certified As Vegan? California Winery Advisor. Retrieved from https://californiawineryadvisor.com/vegan-wine/
Kirchhoff, K. (2020, April 13). Filtered vs. Unfiltered Wine: Which is Better? Wine Folly. Retrieved from https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/fining-and-filtered-vs-unfiltered-wine/
Pambianchi, D. (n.d.). Using Fining Agents. WineMakers Magazine. Retrieved from https://winemakermag.com/technique/715-using-fining-agents-techniques
Seladi-Schulman, J. (2019, August). Am I Allergic to Wine? What to Know About Wine Allergens and Allergies. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/wine-allergens#related-allergies
Stone, J.J. (2014, June 5). Your Wine Isn’t Vegetarian (or Vegan) and Here is Why. Retrieved from https://jerryjamesstone.com/2014/06/your-wine-isnt-vegetarian-or-vegan
Vegan Wine Guide (2018, November 1). Vegan Wine Guide. Plant & Vine. Retrieved from https://www.plantandvine.com/vegan-wine-guide/
Wine.com (n.d.). What is Fining? Wine.com. Retrieved from https://www.wine.com/content/landing/what-is-fining#
Winemakers Depot (n.d.). Fining Agents Cheat Sheet. Winemakers Depot. Retrieved from https://www.winemakersdepot.com/Fining-Agents-Cheat-Sheet-W148.aspx