A combination of concerns around climate, animal welfare, diet and wellness means veganism has never been more popular. Between 2014 and 2019 the number of vegans in the UK more than quadrupled, while in January 2021, a record-breaking 500,000 people signed up to the annual Veganuary challenge – double the number in pre-pandemic January 2019.
Supermarket shelves are now full of plant-based alternatives for everything from steaks and sausages to milk and cheese, and the vegan drinks sector is no exception, with consumers showing a growing interest in wine and beer free from animal products. Ahead of World Vegan Day on 1 November, here’s everything you need to know about vegan wine.
Vegetarianism is fairly straightforward: no meat. Veganism, however, is more of a grey area. According to The Vegan Society, a vegan lifestyle is one where you live a life that seeks, as far as possible, to not exploit or harm animals for either food, clothing or another purpose.
For some people, this might mean avoiding meat and dairy products in diets, for others it might be much stricter, and involve avoiding any food product that has any animal link at all (such as honey or preservatives), as well as items like leather or wool. This is what makes defining vegan wine tricky.
What is vegan wine?
On the face of things, wine is essentially just made of grapes, so why is there a need for specific vegan wine? Because of the winemaking process.
During the winemaking process, it’s common for animal additives such as isinglass (fish bladder), gelatine, egg white and milk protein to be used in the fining (clarifying) and filtering stages. For many vegans, wines produced using this method would be unsuitable for their consumption.
Truly vegan wine, however, uses fining agents such as bentonite (purified clay), activated charcoal, pea gelatine or polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP – a water-soluble polymer), while some wines won’t go through the fining process at all.
Are organic wines vegan?
It’s a common misconception that wines billed as ‘organic’, ‘sustainable’ or ‘biodynamic’ might also be vegan, but this isn’t always the case. These terms refer to the farming processes employed at a vineyard – such as whether chemicals are used and how the soil is managed – rather than the winemaking process itself. While it’s true that organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines can be vegan, not all will be as they may still involve animal products at the fining stage.
Does vegan wine taste different to ‘normal’ wine?
All wine, vegan or otherwise, are made so that fining agents are completely undetectable. As such, there’s no difference in taste between vegan and ‘traditional’ wine beyond the usual factors associated with grape variety, ageing and so on.
How can I tell which wines are vegan?
Many of your favourite wines could well be vegan without you realising, but as there’s no requirement for winemakers to list ingredients or processes on their bottles (beyond potential allergens), identifying vegan wine can be a challenge.
Some brands – especially those catering to a younger, trend-savvy market – may make a wine’s vegan credentials a unique selling point and therefore very clearly indicate it on the label. Supermarkets, meanwhile, will often display their own-brand vegan wine in a dedicated section within the drinks aisle.
Additionally, wines that are labelled as ‘unfined’ or ‘unfiltered’ are also suitable for vegans, as it will not have come into contact with any animal-based fining agent. Otherwise, your best bet is to check the producer or winemaker’s website. Many are responding to the growing interest in diet and wellbeing by providing transparent winemaking and ingredient information for their wines.