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!
Keys to a Stellar Vegan Cinco de Mayo Party
Celebrate Mexican heritage by throwing a festive fiesta with these spicy, south-of-the-border recipes.
Read More »
Vegan Sugar Cookie Dough
The perfect sugar cookie base for making the classic variety, or customizing it with your own flavor combinations. This super adaptable dough is great for holiday baking, or any time you fire up the oven.
Read More »
Vegan Almond Cheese
This rich, complexly flavored, dairy-free cheese is perfect for your next wine and cheese soirée.
Read More »
14 Kitchen Tools for Great Raw Food
Use these essential raw food tools to recreate your favorite meals, sans the heat.
Read More »
Vegan Pesto Pasta
This can be adapted to the season and your pantry. If you have loads of basil, use all basil and no spinach; if you dont have much, use what you have and add more spinach.
Read More »
- Vegan Chunky Monkey Shake
- Easy Vegan Tomato Soup
- Our Favorite Iron-Rich Foods
- The Ultimate Guide to Cooking Oil
- Mexican Street Snacks, Veganized!
- The Best Vegan Smoothies for Morning, Noon, and Night
- 6 DIY Vegan Dim Sum Recipes to Drool Over
- Vegan Pizzette with Roasted Pumpkin, Red Onion, & Sage
- How to Throw the Perfect Vegan Afternoon Tea
- 4 Reasons Why We Love Coconuts
- 7 Vegan Ice Creams We Love That Arent Ben & Jerrys
- Our Favorite One-Dish Meals
- DIY Vegan Cheese Guide
- 7 Sensational Vegan Sauces
- Vegan Orange & Miso-Glazed Tofu
- 10 Juice Cleanses We Love
- Travel-Friendly Vegan Food
- How to Make Your Favorite Foods Raw
- 3 Steps to Smoothie Success
- 10 Spring Produce Stars