How you can tell if wine is vegan-friendly

by Michael Cooper / 29 March, 2018
RelatedArticlesModule - Vegan wine

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The animal products avoided by vegans are commonly found in the fining agents used to clarify wine.

“We are being asked for vegan wines,” the owners of a Matakana winery told me recently. The “vegan food revolution” – as described recently in the Guardian – is certainly making its mark in the UK. Co-op Food, a chain with more than 2700 shops, announced recently it is extending its range of vegan wines to 100.

I’m no expert in this area, but as Rockburn, a Central Otago winery, noted recently, “plant-based diets and lifestyles are more popular than ever”. A vegan diet precludes consumption of meat, fish, dairy products, eggs and honey. But the animal products avoided by vegans are commonly found in the fining agents used to clarify wine.

Who wants to drink cloudy wine? Winemakers use fining agents to remove yeasts and proteins, but also to eliminate astringent tannins, to make young wines taste smoother. Most of these fining agents are fish, animal, milk or egg products, including casein (milk protein), isinglass (from fish bladders), egg albumen (from egg whites) and gelatine (from animals).

The good news is that alternatives exist, such as bentonite, a finely powdered clay. Other vegan-approved fining agents are carbon, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein and silica gel.

Time is another option. Blackenbrook Vineyard, near Nelson, which has a gravity-fed winery, reports that it doesn’t add finings, “because we don’t need to … gravity does most of the work”.

Do large producers have wines suitable for vegans? Heather Stewart, assistant white winemaker at Saint Clair, in Marlborough, is a vegetarian. “Even though no traces of milk or egg whites remain in the finished wines, Saint Clair declares the use of them in production on the back labels … Saint Clair also labels our wines as vegetarian or vegan-friendly, when they have had no animal products used in production … A particular wine may require fining one year and not the next, so labels are updated each year.”

So, how do you know if a wine is vegan-friendly? Just read the label. Under the Food Standards Code, the use of any fining agents that are potential allergens must be declared on the back label.

This article was first published in the March 10, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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