Surely wine is made from grapes and is automatically vegetarian and vegan friendly? Yes this is true but there are some cellar practices to consider during the winemaking that you should be aware of if you want to ensure your wine is suitable for vegetarians or vegans.
After grapes have been fermented into wine and before bottling, the winemaker would usually require that the appearance of the wine be clear and jewel bright without a haze.
This requires that the spent skins, pulp, seeds, yeast lees and other matter slowly drop to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. Some winemakers prefer that the settling happens slowly, over time, at cool temperatures over the winter.
Eventually, when the wine is clear, it can gently be removed from the spent lees at the bottom of the vessel. Depending on wine style and to some extent commercial timelines, this process can take place more quickly by cooling the wine for example, or using other cellar techniques.
Either way, there can still be dissolved matter dispersed throughout the wine which may re appear as a haze or crystals in the future over time, due to for example, temperature changes. Therefore, in order to achieve stability of appearance, colour, aroma, flavour and overall wine quality, wines are fined.
Whilst not all winemakers fine their wines, where they do, it is here that any trace amounts of these fining agents such as gelatin or isinglass that may be left in the wine after bottling making that wine unsuitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Vegetarian friendly, egg whites and casein, are widely used in fining especially in red wines. But, for a wine to be suitable for vegans, wines fined with products such as carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel or vegetable plaques are appropriate.
But how do you know? The best way to identify if your wine is vegetarian or vegan suitable is to check the back label copy. Formal certification for vegan and vegetarian wines is starting to become more wide spread - look out for the green V symbols on the back label. Checking the wineries website is another good source of information.
By Lynne Coyle MW, O'Briens Wine Director