Wine is a hot topic when it comes to any diet.
Over the last five years, the vegan diet has become increasingly popular for environmental, ethical, and health reasons. Research has shown that a little bit of red wine every day may be healthy for the body when consumed in moderation. This has prompted health enthusiasts to consider wine to be part of their respective diets. But one question we get asked regularly is can vegan’s drink wine as part of their diet? In this article we will explore what a vegan diet consists of and whether or not you can be vegan and still enjoy a glass or two of wine.
What Is A Vegan Diet?
A vegan diet is exclusively based on plant foods. Vegan diets exclude all forms of animal products, including eggs, dairy, and meat. When done right, research suggests a vegan diet may be extremely beneficial to the body. Many of those who have turned to a vegan diet report improvement to their mental health and overall well-being. While removing eggs, dairy, and meat in essence is a good thing, Vegans can also run the risk of nutrient deficiencies.
Are All Wines Vegan?
Wine is, for the most part, made from grapes. Some even refer to wine as fermented grape juice. Even though the majority of what makes up your wine is fermented grapes, not all wines are considered vegan. This is because some steps in the winemaking process make use of animal by-products. Due to the recent uprising of Veganism, winemakers will now specify whether their wine is vegan friendly or not.
Winemaking is a slow and arduous process. Once the grapes have been picked and crushed, the grape juice needs to settle before the fermentation can begin. Natural and added yeasts convert the sugars in grape juice into alcohol. Although this seems vegan-friendly, a process further down the line called fining introduces new ingredients to the wine making it not so. At first, the wine is cloudy due to certain molecules like proteins, tannins, phenolics, and tartrates, which are created during the fermentation process. While these molecules are in no way harmful to the body, wine drinkers typically prefer a bright and clear glass of wine. And this is where ‘fining’ comes in by the winemaker.
What Animal Products Are In Wine?
A lot of wines ‘self-fine’ or settle over time. As the wine continues to mature, it clarifies as the solid molecules sink to the bottom of the barrel, leaving bright and clear wine on top. Modern winemaking demands a faster process, not letting the wine dictate its own fining timeframe. Vineyards like any other business, cannot sell their wine until it’s in an acceptable state for the consumer to buy. As they are pressed for time, they turn to fining agents, which help speed up the fining process. When a fining agent is added to the wine, the molecules coagulate around the agent as if the agent is almost magnetic. The tiny particles come together to form bigger clumps so the residue can be easily filtered out before the wine is bottled. This is where your typical wine turns not so vegan-friendly.
The most commonly used fining agents are albumin (egg whites), casein (milk protein), isinglass (fish bladder protein), and gelatin (animal protein). If the wine has been fined using one of these then the answer to the question ‘Can Vegan’s Drink Wine?’ is no. Below we expand on what each of these element added to wine actually are:
Egg whites allow the harshest tannins in unfiltered wine to sink to the bottom of the barrel. This ensures they can be easily removed. The positively charged egg whites bind to the negatively charged tannins, sinking to the floor of the barrel. This leaves clear, less-tannic wine on top.
Casein is used to remove the oxidative taint from white wines, giving them brilliant clarity. Skim milk can be used to achieve similar results.
Fish Bladder Protein
As the name suggests, Isinglass is derived from the bladders of fish like sturgeon. It removes excess color and solids from wine. This is especially used to give white wines more clarity.
Gelatin is a protein derived from animal bones and hides, used in both red as well as white wines. Gelatin gives red wines more suppleness while giving whites more colour.
The final wine doesn’t contain these animal bi-products as they are filtered out along with the other molecules generated during fermentation. However, small traces of any of these agents can still be absorbed into the wine. Since a vegan diet rejects all animal products, the verdict is that as long as any of these four agents are used, the wine is not vegan.
Why Do Winemakers Use Animal By-Products In Wine?
As mentioned above, fining agents are used in wines to speed up the clarification process. This also makes for more affordable wine as the painstaking winemaking process is a lot quicker than if they let it happen by pure gravitational forces. Fining can also act as an aid to fix the overall flavour of the wine, giving the wine a more supple aftertaste and removing bitterness which is caused by molecules like tannins and phenolics.
Vegan Friendly Wines
Now that we have answered the question can vegan’s drink wine, you have the information you need to be able to still enjoy a glass or two of vegan friendly wine. As Veganism marches on and the world is awakening to the impact we are having on our environment, winemakers are becoming more and more vegan friendly. Lots of winemakers have taken to using vegan-friendly fining agents such as bentonite and activated charcoal. Other vegan-friendly wines include unfiltered wines which have not been fined by the use of any additional agents. These wines have gone through the natural process, left to sit in the barrel until the hazy molecules have self-fined once gravity pulls them to the bottom. Winemakers will make reference to this on the wine label.
Picking a perfect wine is not easy. This becomes even more difficult when the majority of wines are, in fact, not vegan friendly. In order to tell if a wine is vegan, winemakers are required to include a disclaimer stating “may contain traces of fish or egg products” on the label. If it says this, then, unfortunately, the wine cannot be part of a vegan diet.
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