Vegan Wines 101
Is your Merlot meat-free? Probably, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's vegan.
"Vegan wine?" I tilt my glass of Pinot Grigio to the light, examining the pale yellow fluid for tiny specks of chicken. "Aren't all wines vegan?" The idea seems preposterous—of course they're vegan. The basics of winemaking are inherently humane: made from grapes, natural fermentation, oak barrels. Nothing that would make you wonder if any animals were harmed in the making of this vintage. But a few wineries are plugging their vino as "vegan-friendly," which begs the question: Is there something important I should know about before I start sipping?
At Virginia's Mountain Cove Vineyards, a fellow named Mike guides us through the winery tucked behind the cabin, telling us the story of the grape, from vine to wine. Afterwards he leads us into the tasting room and pours two generous samples of Tinto—a dry blend of cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon grapes that he proudly calls a great "porch-sippin'" wine—before explaining why some wines are vegan, but most are not. It's all in the fining. Fining is a process wine goes through while it ages to extract impurities in order to produce a clearer, more stable product. After a fining agent is added to wine in a tank or barrel, it drifts about, picking up proteins, yeast, bad flavors and other organic particles before settling to the bottom of the container for easy removal. The clear wine is then racked off into a clean tank, leaving behind minute traces, if any, of the fining agent in the finished wine.
What's difficult for vegans to swallow is that the majority of fining agents used in wines today are derived from animals. These agents include isinglass (from sturgeon bladders), gelatin (from boiled cows' or pigs' hooves and sinews), egg whites (or albumen), and casein (a milk protein). Even bulls' blood, "sangre de toro," was once used to clear red wine, but no longer in American or European wineries—Mad Cow Merlot just wouldn't sell.
There are animal-free alternatives—most commonly bentonite, a natural clay powder, and Sparkaloid, a diatomaceous earth. Both act like a pair of cement boots by becoming attached to bad elements and sinking them to the bottom. Different agents are used to fine different types of wine, and the winemaker gets the final say. With most of the industry using animal byproducts, why are some winemakers switching to more humane methods? According to the owner of Mountain Cove, Al Weed, the humane part is simply a fortuitous side effect. "Most of the non-vegan additives are used typically to compensate for specific 'deficiencies' in the wine,? he replies, "deficiencies to which we go to great lengths to avoid."
Mountain Cove wines, thankfully, are safe for the drinking, and a growing cadre of vintners is following the vegan path to vino. Cheers to that!
5 Foods to Keep Your Teeth Healthy this Holiday Season
As you dig in at your next holiday soirée, make sure to indulge in these five vegan options for optimal dental health.
Read More »
Holiday Classics Veganized
This holiday season, indulge in all of your favorite traditions with these cruelty-free renditions of winter's most-anticipated treats.
Read More »
3 Vegan Thanksgiving Sides from the Experts
Three culinary geniuses share scrumptious vegan sides perfect for UnTurkey Day.
Read More »
Thanksgiving Salad with Cranberries, Apples, & Caramelized Pecans
VegNews' co-founder Colleen Holland shares one of her favorite holiday dishes, complete with sweet, caramelized pecans that are sure to dazzle your guests.
Read More »
3 Simple Timelines for a Stress-Free Vegan Thanksgiving
Your ultimate checklist for getting everything done for UnTurkey Day.
Read More »
- 5 Pancakes for a Cheerfully Decadent Holiday Season
- 10 Downright Delicious Dessert Thanksgiving Recipes
- VN Thanksgiving Exclusive: Five Holiday Centerpieces
- 10 Amazing Savory Thanksgiving Recipes
- Toddy Takeover: 10 Amazing Vegan Cold-Weather Cocktails
- 3 Creative Trimmings for 3 Classic Holiday Pies
- The Ultimate Vegan Getaway: The Stanford Inn
- 7 Inflammation-Reducing Food Groups
- 14 Game-Changing Avocado Recipes
- 5 Foods to Beautify Your Hair from the Inside Out
- VN Recipe Round Up: 7 Fall Favorites
- VegNews Exclusive: Top Tips for An All-Star Vegan Brunch
- Just In Time for Halloween! The 2013 VegNews Guide to Vegan Candy
- The Ultimate Vegan Halloween Party Tips & Menu
- 5 Mouthwatering Vegan Pumpkin Recipes
- A Day in the Life of A Vegan Food Truck Entrepreneur
- The #1 Way to Make Sure You Eat Your Greens First
- LA's Hottest Eatery: Crossroads Kitchen
- Gluten-Free, Kid-Approved Lunchtime Recipes
- 7 Steps to Becoming a Healthier Vegan