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Ever wondered what makes a wine vegan or vegetarian?

What makes a wine vegan?
As more and more people adopt a vegan diet, we are increasingly asked: what makes a wine vegan? Or vegetarian? Surely, they all are? The answer lies in the production techniques. 

Fining is a process used for the clarification and stabilisation of a wine. A fining agent is a substance added to the wine which binds to the unwanted particles and can thereby be removed. This is often done to improve the appearance or affect the colour, aroma or bitterness in the wine. ‘Colloids’ are often removed in this process, these include the some of the important phenolic compounds that give wine their structure, colour and chemical reactions such as oxidation (think the wine’s longevity and development). As such, a winemaker must carefully decide whether to fine their wine and also which is the best fining agent to use (and how much to use) if these decide to go down that route.

Historically, these have been common fining agents:

Albumin (Egg whites) / Casein (Milk protein) / Chitin (Crustacean shells) / Gelatin (Made from skin, tendons, and bones of animals) / Isinglass (Fish bladder)

When these fining agents are used, they often leave behind trace elements, thus meaning the wine isn’t suitable for vegetarians or vegans (depending on the agent used) but it is important to note they do not change the flavour of the wine but are used to improve the stability and clarity of the wine.

Alternatives that are vegetarian and vegan friendly are far more commonplace nowadays, such as these fining agents that have the benefit of removing proteins and particles, but do not contain any animal ingredients:

Activated charcoal / Benonite / Carbon / Limestone / Kaolin clay / Plant casein / Silica gel / Vegetable plaques

Some winemakers prefer not to fine or filter their wines at all and these wines are called ‘natural wines’. These wines are farmed entirely organically with minimal intervention at all times in order to produce a wine in as natural state as possible. And of course, there’s some winemakers who use vegetarian and vegan fining agents, but just don’t talk about it! There’s no absolute hierarchy about which fining agent makes the ‘best’ wine, like all wine: it’s entirely subjective!

Our top 6 favourite vegetarian and vegan wines

Clos Bagatelle Saint-Chinian Blanc, Languedoc

Produced predominantly from Roussanne (60%), there’s the additions of Carignan Blanc (20%), Grenache Blanc (15%) and Vermentino (5%), derived from a combination of limestone, schist and sandstone soils. The sense of place practically sings outs of the glass! Vibrant, generous and expressive, this is such an appealing white where the structure of the wine allows the delicate minerality and nutty, herbaceous character to harmonise. It’s ability to pair with rich, intense dishes such as sautéed mushroom risotto is as joyful as being paired with scallops, oysters or shellfish. A wine full of energy and versatility.

Domaines Bouyer Château Milon, Saint-Émilion Grand Cru, Bordeaux

Delicious dark broody fruits dominate this wine, and the velvety mouthfeel epitomises the grace of this beautiful Bordeaux. Anyone receiving a glass, bottle or case of this will feel very spoilt!  Simply oozing with comfort, concentration and elegance, this makes for the perfect pairing with baked Camembert, Teriyaki Aubergines or the non-veggie option of Roast Rib of Beef.

Cave de Turckheim Mayerling Brut Crémant d’Alsace

There’s something truly inviting about a glass of rosé fizz with energetic bubbles firing up the glass and exploding like mini fireworks. It’s like a mini-celebration all of its’ own, and you – yes you, are invited! Mayerling Brut Rosé is certainly worthy of consideration: a delicate pale salmon hue, with subtle nuances of raspberries and cranberries laced in cream indicate the character of Pinot Noir.  Having already aged on its lees for extended time than the appellation demands, there’s a welcome intensity of fruit rather than this being just a simple ‘fizz’. It makes a wonderful pairing with smoked salmon and if you find you can resist, ageing it further only adds to the enjoyment!


Nachbil Riesling, Crisana Maramures, Romania

New to our list and WOW what a great addition!  We’re extremely fussy when it comes to Riesling.  Let’s face it, the historic Alsace flute puts a lot of people off trying anything vaguely aromatic – too many hazy memories of sickly-sweet Riesling secretly drunk in teenage years! Recalling the taste of Black Tower and Blue Nun has been enough to put many people off trying Riesling during Adulthood.  However, since the naughty wines of the 70’s and 80’s, there really has been a ‘Riesling Revival’ – purity of fruit is at the heart of the philosophy, and as the grape is considered ‘Noble’ it means it’s capable of being produced bone-dry, dry, medium-dry, medium, medium-sweet and full on, hold onto your hats and don’t let the diabetics near, sweet! In its many guises, there can still be amazing acidity and wonderful balance. Nachbil have absolutely nailed it here! 

Produced in the style of Rhine Riesling, this is intensely perfumed with aromatic, floral and spicy notes. The palate has a tight structure with an abundance of green fruits – apple, gooseberries married with a richness of honey. The mouth-watering acidity and residual sugar level that would have it classified as ‘medium-dry’ is in perfect balance and the finish….WOW! The finish goes on and on! This is a wonderful wine to pair with spicy foods – Asian, Mexican dishes that can be both spicy and salty – as well as richer meats such as Goose and Duck, whether roasted or as a pâté. The wine isn’t going to appeal to everyone, and given the limited quantities produced, that’s just fine, but if you are keen to explore something a bit different, start here and revel in its beauty and enjoy the ride!

Château Gairoird Rosé, Côtes de Provence

The rise in popularity of rosé means it’s no longer reserved for sunshine filled holidays.  Perhaps it’s the need to reminisce in those warm, fun-filled moments or maybe we’re allowing our YOLO philosophy to rule our heads! When you taste this beauty, it’s easy to see why Rosé is being enjoyed all year round: luscious fruit, delicate floral notes, hints of herbs, citrus acidity and great palate complexity…I’m already reaching for a glass!

Alpha Box & Dice ‘Enigma’ Barbera, McLaren Vale, Adelaide Hills, South Australia

Alpha Box & Dice are embarking on an Alphabet of Wine.  Each ‘letter’ embodies an individual winemaking project, with the end goal being a complete collection of wines that celebrates the diverse styles and varieties found in South Australia’s famous wine regions. ‘E’ stands for ‘Enigma’.  Why ‘Enigma’? Well, this IS one puzzle worth solving! Barbera is a complicated little grape – just like a puzzle, only some elements of its character are visible and the deeper you dig, the more is revealed.  Naturally high in acidity, low in tannins, tricky in the vineyard, tricky in the winery: it has a liveliness and a drinkability to it that no other wine can quite match which makes it so beguiling! This is one mystery worth pursuing!

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