As an hospitality student I’ve been introduced to the Food and Beverage world directly as part of my Bachelor. One of the most surprising discoveries I’ve made was in fact during the Bar & Beverage Management class: not all alcohol is vegan, and wine in particular.
I was shocked: isn’t wine made from grapes? What’s not vegan about it?
During the making of wine, a fining process (filtering and colouring) is conducted. Even if there is a big variety of vegan options for these two procedures, the most common ones are gelatin, egg whites, blood, carmine, milk or isinglass.
Vegan wines use instead non animal derived alternatives, such as bentonite (impure clay), kaolin (clay mineral), kieselguhr (sedimentary rock) or silica gel. Also there are techniques such as centrifuging that are starting to gain popularity among wine producers.
What does fining do? Its purpose is to stabilise and purify the wine, while giving clarity to the colour, removing suspended solids and sediments and also all undesired odours, tannins and colours. The fining agents are being added to the barrel after fermentation or otherwise before bottling. They are left inside in order to attract and bring to the bottom any unwanted particles inside the wine.
To make everything clearer, I’ll explain you what some of these fining agents are.
Gelatin, for example, also used in candies and jelly sweets, derives from the skin and the connective tissue of cows and pigs.
Isinglass is basically collagen, coming from the swim bladders of fish.
Carmine, on the other hand, derives from the bodies of dried cochineal beetles, and its main function is to color beverages such as Campari. It has also various other names, such as Cochineal, Crimson Lake, Cochineal Extract, E120, C.I. 75470, Carminic Acid and Natural Red 4.
So how can you drink without ingesting animal products? Usually, most of spirits are vegan, followed in order by cider and beer. Wines and champagne are the “dirtiest” ones and as there are no regulations that force producers to specify the agents used during fining, you shouldn’t consume any wine where it is not clearly specified whether they are vegan or not.