Erin Doman on April 4, 2016 0 Comments For health and allergy purposes, for animal welfare and justice, or for simple personal preference, there is no denying that more and more Americans are making the switch to an animal product-free diet. With many people around the country making the switch to a vegan diet, the question has been raised: can wine be a part of a strict vegan diet? The short answer is that it depends. Although for thousands of years, fermentation has taken place naturally by means of yeasts present on grape skins, creativity and experimentation have brought additional processing steps into common use. More than 70 additives are commonly allowed in wines, some of which are dairy- and animal-based. Visually, there’s no way to tell how a vintage was processed. Therefore, if you want to ensure that your wine pairings are suitable for those with allergies or objections to certain substances, please read on. The Journey From Grape to Bottle Fermentation can leave behind substances that make the product less attractive or palatable to consumers. The process used to remove such compounds is called fining. For example, when red grapes contain thick skins, the fermented result can often contain excessive amount of polyphenols, also known as tannins. A high concentration of tannins can detract from the experience and be unpleasant for the consumer. Sometimes, the issue will fix itself inside of the bottle, but to make such wines more suitable for early drinking, excessive polyphenols can be removed by means of adding a protein. For health-conscious consumers, the good news is that many vintners have similar views on what they will and won’t put into their bodies. When the maker’s opinions are aligned with those of the customer, everybody wins. Additionally, some grapes, regions and production techniques lend themselves automatically to a more pure, natural process, requiring little to no additives. Before bottling, vintners may choose to enhance their product by removing astringencies, haze, sediments, off-flavors or off-odors, all the while seeking to preserve the overall body and flavor profile of the wine. The result is an agreeable drink that is both clear in color and smooth in mouthfeel. Some winemakers choose to use natural, plant-based substances to accomplish this, others do not. In any case, products used during fining are typically filtered out or left behind before racking takes place. Animal Products That Have Been Used in Fining Processes Before the wine is complete and ready to be sold, it must go through a fining process. Unfortunately for vegans, this is the phase where many of the products used are animal products. Here are several of the elements often used during the wine fining process: Egg Whites In old world reds, egg whites have often been used as a fining agent. One egg alone will clarify 6.25 gallons of wine. Effectiveness comes from the soluble protein, albumin, which carries a positive charge, easily attracting tannins and after bonding, dropping solids to the bottom of the barrel. Fresh egg whites can be used, but some vintners use them in powder form in order to eliminate the risk of bacterial contamination that can come from fresh eggs. Casein A protein component of milk, casein has been used to reduce tannins in reds and oxidation in whites. It can be used in commercial form (as potassium caseinate) or added directly via skim milk. Chitosan Taken from chitin, a material that is derived from the exoskeletons of shellfish, chitosan has been used as a clarifying agent in white varieties. Its popularity comes from its effectiveness due to its positive charge (especially when combined with Kieselsol, a natural, negatively charged substance) and minimal impact on the integrity of the final product. Gelatin Derived from animal bones, gelatin can be used as a clearing agent before or after fermentation. In reds, it can be used to remove excess polyphenols, and in whites to absorb bitter flavors. Isinglass Derived from the bladder of fish, isinglass has been used as a fining agent in certain white varieties. Containing a protein called collagen, it has been used effectively as a final polish, one that tends not to strip flavors or character from the vintage. Natural Agents for Polishing Wines All that being said, there actually are ways to create a great wine using vegan-friendly products. Here are a couple of the elements used to create wine that do not include animal products: Activated Charcoal Sourced from plants, activated charcoal can be used to absorb unwanted colors and odors. Because of its neutral charge, it has no effect on suspended or dissolved solids. Bentonite A natural clay made from volcanic ash, Bentonite is one of the most commonly used natural fining agents. It effectively attracts suspended solids, and can be used before or after fermentation. Metatartaric Acid Produced from a substance that naturally exists in many plants, it is used to precipitate out potassium crystals before the racking stage. Labels to Help You Select Vegan Wines Although no US organization currently offers a vegan label certification, there are some indicators of quality and care that you can use to make your choices. The following labels are important to look for when choosing the purest vintage possible at your local wine store. “Certified Organic” This label assures buyers that only organically grown grapes were used, and that no sulfites were added. “Biodynamic” Similar to the organic label, producers who follow biodynamic processes maintain a holistic view of agriculture. Look for either the Demeter or Biodyvin certification when you are shopping. “Salmon-Safe” Over 350 vineyards in Oregon and Washington have been labeled as Salmon-Safe. The certification helps to protect fish habitat by shading stream corridors, growing cover crops to prevent erosion and applying natural pest control methods. Homemaking Vegan-Friendly Wine Click Here to View All Home Winemaking Equipment Another option for ensuring that your wine is created using vegan practices is to create it yourself. While your homemade wine will not be of the same quality as that of Languedoc-Roussillon or the Willamette, at least you know that the wines you create will be suitable for your dietary needs. Beginning the home winemaking process can be fun, and many do it as a hobby, regardless of how their final products turn out. Before you begin, you need to ensure you have all of the right equipment. You will need: Ingredient Kits Chemical Testing Equipment Fermentation Chemicals Sanitation Equipment Bottling Equipment Be sure to to read our guide on home winemaking basics to help you get started. Helpful Web Resources If you are still unsure about a particular wine or are interested in learning more about the subject, you might benefit from visiting one of the following sites for more information: Barnivore.com –- this site collects information from producers and consumers and catalogs products as either being vegan-friendly or not. A recent search for vegan wines returned more than 2,500 results. VRG.org –- The Vegetarian Journal’s Guide To Food Ingredients is an exhaustive list of commonly used substances added to food and beverages. Use your browser to search the page to find out about origins of any ingredient in question. Of course, the best way to know if a particular product is vegan or not is to ask the producer. To obtain closure about the processing used to create a particular product, try sending the company an email or tweet. The availability of vegan wines has never been better. With so much competition in the beverage market, consumers have the luxury to pick and choose only the products that meet their criteria. Wine pairings with a vegan focus can bring satisfying results. Delicious, innovative vegetarian recipes aren’t hard to come by, and neither are the right vintages. Even for omnivores, putting together a menu focused on health and quality can bring surprising enjoyment to both mouth and body.