Blog: IT’S JUST GRAPES THOUGH, ISN’T IT? | Vegan & Vegetarian Friendly Wines Explained

By Nick Hoyle

This week Nick talks us through what actually makes a wine vegan/vegetarian friendly, or not, and gives some tips on what to look out for when choosing. 

Most of us, even those who freely admit to “knowing nothing about wine”, know that wine is made from grapes right? It is, according to the EU definition, “the total or partial alcoholic fermentation of fresh grapes…” and even Brexit, hard or soft, isn’t going to change that one jot.

So surely therefore, aren’t all wines Vegetarian and Vegan friendly?

Well, in short, no. The reason that Vegans and Vegetarians need to be on their guard is the desire of most of us, Omnivore and Vegan alike, to generally like our wines to be shiny, clear and bright. When wine is made it can be hazy and opaque with various “bits” such as tartrates, tannins and phenolics floating around in it. These are a natural part of winemaking and no harm is caused by them however we do have an aesthetic desire for clean and bright wine.

Winemakers of course, being eager to please, recognise this and subject the wine to a process called “fining”, which clarifies and clears the wine. Historically they have used a variety of agents to achieve this aim, the most common of which are egg whites, casein (a milk protein), gelatine and isinglass, which is a fish bladder protein. None of these are classed as additives and are finally filtered out along with all the bits that are causing the haze.

So now we see the revelation that the delicious grape juice, which we know and love, can sometimes have had the involvement of hidden trip wires such as fish bladder and egg whites ready to catch out the unwary Vegan.


Help though is at hand and it comes in the shape of aluminosilicate clay from Wyoming called Bentonite. It is formed from volcanic ash and is ideal for removing the protein molecules which cause the haze. It should however be used carefully as it has strong powers of absorption which can also reduce the fruit of the wine in both aroma and flavour. It also throws a large deposit which can result in wasted wine – never a good thing.

Another vegan friendly fining agent is activated charcoal. This is permitted for use in white wine only and needs to be carefully handled as it too can remove flavours. Charcoal is used extensively in the production of vodka where the taste of pure ethanol is a main requirement.

What about Natural Wine?

There is also an interesting trend gaining some traction in the wine world and that is for “natural” winemaking. This is where the wine maker puts his or her feet up, tries not to intervene too much but lets Mother Nature do her thing. Wine, if left long enough, will self-clarify and self-stabilize and some natural wine makers are letting this happen. This, of course, has the advantage of being vegan friendly and maintains the intended flavours which could be lessened with fining and filtering. It comes at a cost though of often being a touch hazy and being, how shall we say, a little quirky?

How do I know if a wine is vegetarian/vegan friendly?

So how do we tell what is vegan or veggie friendly? Sometimes, but not always, producers put on the back label that the wine is suitable for vegans and/or vegetarians. Also, if a wine states that it is “unfined” or “unfiltered”, you will know that the wine hasn’t had any animal or dairy products used in the making of it. Alternatively, just ask your wine merchant, who should be well placed to help guide you.

So, if these revelations about fish bladder and gelatine in your wine has you spluttering in to your mungbean casserole, pop down and see us at The Whalley Wine Shop and we’ll be only too happy to help.

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