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!
The Top 15 Vegan Recipes of 2014
From mac 'n' cheese to veganized Girl Scout cookies, we unveil the year's most popular (and downright delicious) vegan recipes.
Read More »
Earth Balance Named "Company of the Year"
From mac & cheese, cheddar puffs, and vegan Cheez-Its, Earth Balance does vegan right.
Read More »
DIY Vegan Holiday Gifts
Spending mucho moola not your idea of a happy holiday? These DIY gifts are green and affordable.
Read More »
The 2014 Veggie Awards
Our 13th annual list of the very best of all things vegan is finally here! Read on for this years reader picks for todays hottest vegan people, places, and products.
Read More »
4 Easy Vegan Sides Your Entire Family Will Love
Hosting a family dinner this holiday season? These side dishes are sure-fire winners for every guest at your table.
Read More »
- Thanksgiving Salad with Cranberries, Apples, & Caramelized Pecans
- Robin Robertson: My Top 10 Vegan Dishes Around the World
- 3 Vegan Thanksgiving Sides from the Experts
- 10 Downright Delicious Dessert Thanksgiving Recipes
- 3 Simple Timelines for a Stress-Free Vegan Thanksgiving
- The Ultimate Vegan Halloween Party Tips & Menu
- 5 Mouthwatering Vegan Pumpkin Recipes
- The 2014 VegNews Guide to Vegan Halloween Candy
- How to Make Tofu: A Step-by-Step Photo Guide
- How to Date a Meat-Eater
- Vegan Weddings 2014: Laura Robeson & Danielle Davis
- Vegan Weddings 2014: Alison Longley & Theodore Ross Butler
- Everything You Need to Know About Juicing
- Vegan Weddings 2014: Ashley Moore & Jordan Coates
- Guide to Vegan Baking
- How to Make Great Vegan Mexican Food at Home
- Vegan Weddings 2014: Aliya & Michael Weber
- 10 Creative Ways to Use Nut Butters
- VegNews Exclusive: An Interview with John Joseph
- 10 Foods to Help Get Rid of Stress