If you’re a vegetarian, it might not have occurred to you that your favourite wine might use animal-derived products. Like beer, wines use certain enzymes for refining, or clarification just before bottling. Some of the more common of these, isinglass, for example, comes from the swim bladders of sturgeon. These positively charged enzymes attract the negatively charged particles suspended in wine after fermentation, clumping them together until they gain mass and sink to the bottom of the liquid as a fine residue.
Do I have to give up wine if I’m vegetarian or vegan? No! This is only one method for clarification, and vegetarian and vegan wines are increasingly in demand with consumers, across many styles. Happily, there are plenty of animal-friendly alternatives to such refining methods including filtering with limestone, carbon and bentonite clay, instead. Some wines are filtered with animal products, like casein, derived from milk, and egg albumen. These will not be suitable for vegan consumption.
Will I be limited to a few select bottles of undrinkable swill? Heavens, no! The good news is, there is a broad range of vegan and vegetarian-friendly wines on the market in, with nowhere near the usual limitations experienced for vegetarians. Most wines are fined with bentonite, so it’s likely when you pick up a bottle in the supermarket it is vegetarian, but the problem is, retailers don’t have to specify on the label.
So how to I tell?
A lot of it comes down to scrutinising fine print. Some retailers do choose to display a Vegetarian Society logo on their labels, or the disclaimer ‘suitable for vegetarians and vegans’. You can opt to only drink unrefined or unfiltered wine, which will describe this on the label as part of the wine’s attributes, and is a guarantee that nothing has been added to fine the liquid.
While it’s unlikely the wine you drink will ever contain even trace elements of the refining material used, using animal products as part of the process will still prove upsetting for any vegetarians or vegans. The very best way to find out what’s in your wine is to buy from a off-license or wine-merchant. Since they deal directly with wineries and wine reps, they should have a thorough grounding in what goes into the wines they buy. There are also specialist organic, vegetarian and vegan wine specialists online, who you can trust to provide you with a bottle of animal-friendly tipple. Why not try pairing your favourite wine with a vegetarian dish? We’ll toast to that!
Image by Joe Shlabotnik used under the Creative Commons license.
Image by derekGavey used under the Creative Commons license.