You may be surprised to find out that most wine is not vegan!
We certainly were, so we went looking for the reasons why, as well as the best vegan alternatives.
Is wine vegan?
It might come as something of a revelation to learn that most wine is not vegan.
Animal rights campaign group PETA explains that wine is filtered using various substances known as fining agents.
Fining agents are used to sieve out any impurities, such as particles of protein or yeast, as well as to help ‘clarify’ the wine.
PETA lists the following fining agents as non-vegan1 :
- blood and bone marrow
- casein (milk protein)
- chitin (from crustacean shells)
- egg albumen
- fish oil
- gelatine (protein from animal parts)
- isinglass (gelatin from fish)
It is therefore important for vegans to know that many fining agents are not considered ingredients – and therefore are not listed – despite the fact that tiny amounts of them can be found in the wine.
So it can be hard to tell at the supermarket exactly which fining agents were used2.
And, in addition to the fining agent, vegans may also want to know more about the grape-growing process: were fertilizers derived from animals used?3
If that was not enough, beeswax is sometimes used as a seal. And glues containing milk are sometimes used in agglomerated corks4.
However, the rise in popularity of veganism has in turn led to a rise in vineyards, wine shops and websites specializing in traceable vegan wines, so that those on a plant-based diet can be sure of the origins of their beverage.
Is wine vegetarian?
As you can see from the list of fining agents above, some fining agents are made from dairy products, namely eggs and milk, which many vegetarians will consume.
But of course, vegetarians will not want to consume any of the other animal-derived alternatives.
However, as with vegans, the problem is that many wines are not transparent on the label about all their processing agents, so it can be difficult to know whether a wine is vegetarian or not.
This has helped fuel the rise in popularity of vegan wine, as vegetarians can know instantly that it is safe for them, too.
What is contained in vegan wine?
The great news for vegans is that there are plenty of fining agents that are vegan.
PETA lists the following:
- bentonite clay
- kaolin clay
- plant casein
- silica gel
- vegetable plaques
So it is perfectly possible to produce high quality wine using processes and ingredients which are vegan.
What about natural wine and organic wine?
Then there are the words “natural” and “organic”. Confusingly, both are terms that are commonly associated with vegan food, but they are not interchangeable.
And what about “unfiltered” or “unfined” wines? And “sustainable” and “biodynamic”? Let’s dig in!
The word “unfiltered” or “unfined” is usually a good indication that a wine is vegan (as it means a fining agent has not been used).
However, “natural wine” is not. That is because all of the animal products listed above as fining agents are natural – as in, from nature – but they are certainly not vegan!
“Organic”, “sustainable” and “biodynamic” labels are all great for the soil and the environment.
But they usually only point to the practices of growing the grapes and bottling.
None of those terms alone speak to whether or not animal-derived fining agents have been used.
Vegan wine: which are the best alternatives?
So while it may seem like a minefield, with the rise in veganism, wine producers have had to get much smarter when it comes to labelling and transparency (this goes for other types of vegan alcohol, including vegan beer, too).
Most of the major UK supermarkets now stock visibly vegan wine5 and other suppliers, such as Majestic, went from stocking 79 vegan wines in 2019 to over 200 in 2020, so it is easier than ever to be a vegan oenophile (try saying that after a couple of glasses of vegan prosecco!).6
Is prosecco vegan?
Speaking of vegan prosecco… vegans will be pleased to hear that most prosecco is vegan.
Vegan website ‘Planted’ recommends San Leo Prosecco, Giol Prosecco Frizzante, and Proudly Vegan7.
If you want to find out whether your favourite wine is vegan, try the website Barnivore.
Or, if you want to search for any of the following:
- vegan red wine
- vegan white wine
- a country-specific vegan wine, such as a vegan Italian wine
- a type of grape, like a vegan chardonnay wine
then simply do a quick web search and you will find endless lists of great options, such as Independent.co.uk’s list of 12 of the best vegan wines of 20208.
Last updated: 29th January 2021
Author: Bhupesh Panchal, Regulatory Affairs
Bhupesh started his career as a clinical toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products. After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.
In his spare time, Bhupesh likes to cycle and has been learning to speak Korean for several years.