Non-vegetarian friends are frequently surprised when I tell them that wine can be vegetarian. At first sight it does seem strange that any animal products could be found in wine. I can also put my hand up and say that I don’t always remember that wine can contain animal products and don’t always buy veggie wine. But I am trying!
What makes wine non-vegetarian?
Wine is made from grapes. Nothing wrong with that from a veggie point of view. However, the list of ingredients doesn’t stop there.
Winemakers use a process called fining. This removes organic matter, such as sulfides and proteins. This fining process usually happens near the end of the winemaking process.
However, there are a number of quite frankly bizarre substances used in the process. Historically these included:
- egg whites
- fish swim bladder.
Modern day fining substances include:
- Isinglass ( a dried substance derived from fish swim bladders)
- Casein (derived from cheese)
- Gelatin (animal bones).
It is obviously possible for winemakers to make vegetarian wine. They can use alternative substances such as bentonite, a clay mineral and kaolin. I have never drunk a bottle of vegetarian wine and thought, ‘Hmm, that really doesn’t taste as good!’
So why can’t wine makers make all their wine veggie? It would expand their market and would mean more people could enjoy their wine.
How do I know which wine is vegetarian?
In the UK (and undoubtedly in many other countries), the food and drink labelling system should help you. When you’re in the off-licence or supermarket, just take a look at the label on the rear of the bottle. If it is vegetarian it should either display the ‘V’ symbol or clearly state that the wine is suitable for vegans and vegetarians.
It is always worth looking at the labelling to see if there is mention of the ingredients in the wine. This could include keywords such as isinglass and casein.
The Vegetarian Society run a very useful website called Vegsoc approved where you can find out more about Vegetarian Society approved food and drinks. Take a look if you’re interested in finding out which brands are veggie.
The world of veggie wine
So now I know what makes a veggie wine, I’m going to make more of an effort to check before I buy! Support vegetarian wine and hopefully more and more winemakers will think veggie first.