What is vegan wine?

In Brad’s October subscription case, we are including an interesting vegan Carmenere, produced by a small family-owned vineyard in Villorba, Italy. Check out the monthly selection and subscribe online.

What exactly is vegan wine?
The production of wine is a complicated process that includes a range of factors to obtain the exact end-result that the winemaker is looking for. One step in the production of wine often includes a process called fining (or "clarifying"). A fining agent is added to the top of the vat. As it sinks down, particles adhere to the agent, and are carried out of suspension. The fining agent and the gathered particles then are removed either by filtering or through a settling process.

Fining agents are typically either animal, carbon or clay-based products and are used to gather proteins or sediment within the wine to adjust impurities such as colour, haziness, taste and/ or smell. Animal-based fining agents include gelatin (made from the boiling of animal parts), isinglass (form of gelatin derived from fish bladders primarily used to clear white wines), albumen (whites of a raw chicken egg. It is most commonly used in the clarification of red wines to remove excess tannins), and casein (main protein found in cow's milk, used in both red and white wines to treat and prevent oxidation). Different agents will be used based on the desired outcome of the wine and the winemaker's preference. In fact, bull's blood was also used in some Mediterranean countries but (as a legacy of bovine spongiform encephalopathy - mad cow disease) is not allowed in the U.S. or the European Union. Because the fining agent is filtered back out of the wine, the labeling of these additives are not required or regulated in most places.

Vegan/ Vegetarian Alternative Fining Agents
As an alternative to animal products, carbon, bentonite (a clay mineral), and polyvinylpolypyrrolidone are the most common to be used to clarify wine. Some vintners also let the wine's sediments settle naturally, a time-consuming process. In Australia, winemakers are required to list the use of potential allergens such as casein and albumin on the label but are not obliged to list the use of other non-vegan fining agents such as gelatin or isinglass. In the EU, regulations only stipulate that wines fined using milk or egg products (both allergens) must be clearly labelled.

So there are numerous wineries, not using animal products and they may label their wines as vegan. Some winemakers will boast on the wine label that their wine is unfiltered, because they believe that fining removes desirable flavours and aromas, and some wine connoisseurs prefer wine to be unfiltered. There is also a growing trend in natural wines, which are vegan and unfiltered by their very nature.

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