As we all know wine is made from grapes. Wine is grape juice combined with a special variety of yeast and allowed to ferment.
But not all wines are vegan or even vegetarian-friendly.
The reason that all wines are not vegan or even vegetarian-friendly has to do with a process called ‘fining’ or how the wine is clarified.
For those who don’t know, many winemakers use animal products in the ‘fining’ process. To simplify, freshly fermented wine usually contains small particles of proteins, tannins, tartrates and phenolics—these are all naturally occurring substances and and in no way harmful. They are removed because consumers like to drink smooth, clean wine. Most wines, if left long enough, will self-stabilize and self-fine.
Historically, to speed up the process, winemakers have used animal ingredients as ‘fining agents’ to capture sediment such as casein (animal milk protein), albumin (egg whites), isinglass (fish bladder), and gelatin (collagen from animal bones or boiled cow or pig body parts). Fining with casein and albumin is usually acceptable by most vegetarians but all four are off limits for vegans because tiny traces of the fining agent may be absorbed into the wine during the fining process
Fining agents help remove these haze-inducing molecules by acting like a magnet – attracting the molecules around it. They coagulate around the fining agent, creating fewer but larger particles, which can then be more easily removed or strained out. These fining agents are not additives to the wine, as they are precipitated out along with the haze molecules.
Fortunately, more and more vineyards are starting to use cruelty-free substances like bentonite (clay-based) which is particularly efficient at ‘fining’ out unwanted proteins and activated charcoal is another vegan and vegetarian-friendly agent. An increasing number of wine producers are skipping the fining practice entirely by allowing the wine to self-clarify and self-stabilize. In other words, time to settle before decanting it into bottles. Such wines usually mention on the label ‘not fined and/or not filtered’.
This move to more natural winemaking methods, allowing nature to take its course, means more vegan and vegetarian-friendly wines. However, wine labels typically do not indicate whether the wine is suitable for vegans or vegetarians, or what fining agents were used.
How is a vegan wine drinker to know whether a wine is vegan-friendly or not? It’s not easy.
There is an increasing number of more organic, biodynamic and natural wines available to consumers, and many of these are considered vegetarian or vegan.
One US brand, Bonny Doon Vineyards wines are actually very vegan-friendly. All of their wines are vegan — they don’t use any animal product fining agents, (isinglass, egg whites or gelatin) in any wine and haven’t since 1985, They do use some bentonite on the whites and pinks.
Other popular vegan-friendly wines include: Charles Shaw (red wines only); Frey Vineyards; Red Truck Wines; Green Truck Wines; Yellowtail (red wines only; not white or rosé); Lumos Wines.
For a more definitive list of affordable, easy-to-drink vegan wines here is a quick guide to wine brands in the $25 and under category.
KRIS Pinot Grigio. Kris is an affordable Italian white wine favorite that is available at almost every liquor store.
LITTLE BLACK DRESS Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, & Moscato. This budget-friendly company’s white wines are all vegan and a favorite with wine and cheese and Netflix, nights. These wines usually range under $15.
MEIOMI Chardonnay. Meiomi also makes a Rose and a Pinot Noir, but Chardonnay is their only white.
DECOY Sauvignon Blanc. Decoy is a brand under the larger Duckhorn Vineyards (also vegan, but much pricier), and their wines are all vegan.
LES JAMELLES Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay. The entire Les Jamelles line is vegan—evidently, they were concerned about potential allergen issues with the use of animal products, so they “only use products of vegetable or mineral origin” in the fining process.
BOGLE. Sauvignon Blanc & Chardonnay. Bogle is another sustainability-farmed vineyard with wines that can be found at many local liquor stores.
NATURA Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay. Natura is very clear about the fact that they use organically grown grapes and wines ae vegan.
NEWMAN’S OWN Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon. Profits from Newman’s Own go to charity. Only their Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are vegan, whereas their other varietals are not.
LAYER CAKE Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay. Layer Cake is a fully vegan label, providing reds, whites, and rosé.
FAT CAT CELLARS Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Pinot Noir. The entire Fat Cat line is vegan. Their parent company, the Bronco Wine Company, has numerous vegan wines under their name.
OUR DAILY RED Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Red Blend. This all-organic brand clearly states on their website and bottles that they’re vegan.
GREEN TRUCK Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Pinot Noir. These vegan wines are also organic. Every wine they produce is both vegan and organic.
RED TRUCK Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, & Pinot Noir. These vegan wines are owned by the same vineyard as Green Truck. Red Truck wines are vegan but not necessarily organic.
CYCLES GLADIATOR Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Syrah & Pinot Noir.
The Cycles Gladiator line is a fun wine company that was inexpensive and a favorite of our customers.
NATURA Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir, and Carmenere. Natura uses organically grown grapes, and they are very clear about the fact that they’re vegan.
PICKET FENCE Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Top Rail Red. Picket Fence is another wine owned by the Bronco Wine Company, and offers vegan reds & whites.
MICHAEL DAVID WINERY This is one of my favorite fun wineries, with fun names like 6th Sense, Earthquake, Inkblot, Gluttony, Rage, Lust, Freakshow, and my personal favorite, Rapture..
LAYER CAKE Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Shiraz, “Sea of Stones” (red blend) and “Primitivo”. Layer Cake is a fully vegan label, providing reds, whites, and rosé..