As we all know, wine is a product of fermentation. The main ingredients in most wines are fruits, usually (but not limited to) grapes, and yeast. The yeast consumes the sugars in the grape/other fruit must, converting the juice into the sublime quaff many of us know and love. Done. The question becomes, “so if the ingredients that go into making the majority of wines we consume today are grapes/other fruits and yeast, aren’t all wines made from grapes/other fruits ipso facto vegetarian and vegan friendly?” The response, of course is, “no, they are not”.
The issue is what happens after fermentation. A newly fermented wine will not be the clear product we find in most bottles. There will be microscopic bits of spent yeast cells, and other solids from fermentation floating about, giving the wine a murky appearance. Winemakers know that if they let wine sit quietly, all these little bits will eventually settle to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, and they’ll have a clear (clarified), stable wine in the tank or barrel, but that could take months. To expedite clarification, winemakers use a technique called fining, which involves the use of what are called ‘fining agents’. These agents are added to the fermented wine to adsorb (yes ad not ab), or coagulate, the bits in the wine and cause them to sink to the bottom of the fermenting tank. This saves money for the producer, because she or he does not need to wait months for the natural stabilization to occur (translate cellar space costs), and they can then pass that savings to the customer. However, for those winemakers who do not fine or filter some of or all of their products, these wines are vegan friendly. Look for ‘unfined, unfiltered’ disclaimers on the bottle label. Of the types of fining agents used by winemakers today, powdered mineral or insoluble plastic materials are non-organic. One of the most common is Bentonite, an unusual form of clay. In powdered form it has superior adsorption qualities. It is sprinkled into the wine in powder form, and completely precipitates to the bottom of the tank/barrel, taking those unwanted bits along for the ride. Use of these non-organic fining agents would classify a wine as vegan friendly. Other types of fining agents used are organic compounds. If casein (from milk), or albumen (from egg whites) is used, then the resulting wines would still be regarded as OK for vegetarians, but not vegans. If isinglass (from swim bladders of fish), or gelatin (from waste meat or bone) are used, then the wines will not be OK for either vegetarians or vegans.
Aligra has a significant number of wines classified as vegan friendly, and therefore by default vegetarian friendly. Each of their tags has been marked with a small green dot. Check them out the next time you’re in the store, and happy, safe drinking! Special thanks go to Jason Doucette and the crew at Barnivore, a comprehensive vegan wine, beer and liquor website!!