What is the difference between traditional, vegetarian, and vegan wine?
Though all wines are made from grapes, it is incorrect to assume that all wines are suitable for vegetarians and vegans to consume. The methods used to make wine have evolved over the past several years to satisfy the changing demands of the wine-drinking population.
Wine drinkers are not just interested in the wine that is in the bottle but also the journey it took to get there which means that there is a greater interest in the viticulture and winemaking process and will ultimately play a role in the decision-making process of choosing a particular wine. Another factor is the increase in the number of vegetarian and vegan wine drinkers.
Wine is alive and the priority of winemakers is to preserve the integrity and unique characteristics of each wine they make as much as possible.
All wine starts as vegetarian and vegan - it is only during the second filtration (fining) stage just before the wine is bottled that unique materials are added to the wine to remove Colloids - which are tiny particles that are in the juice.
The most common particles to be removed are microscopic bacteria and crystallized acids whose presence can cause possible defects in the wine after it is bottled. There are two main types of fining agents - either protein-based (PB) or inorganic (IO).
If the fining agent used has animal-based derivatives then the wine is no longer considered vegetarian or vegan and falls into the category of traditional wine.
There is no legal statute requiring winemakers to divulge what fining products they use in their wines. The good news, however, is that many wine producers have started to understand that their clients are becoming more discerning in their choices of wine and demand a certain amount of transparency.
To this end, wineries are voluntarily supplying more information about the manufacturing process than is legally required which often includes the type any fining agents that are used.
The majority of traditional wines that are made are mass-produced and are created for immediate consumption, this is the most efficient business model for a winery to keep costs down and generate revenue quickly.
Wines are filtered and fined (most commonly with gelatine one ounce of gelatine can fine 1,000 gallons of wine!) before the wine is bottled.
Filtering and fining the wines also shortens the length of production time that is needed before the wines can be sent out to the market. Fining the wines gives them a nice desirable bright clean appearance that is appealing to the consumer. The use of this process also lowers the chance of any residual bacteria remaining in the wine that might cause it to go “off” in the bottle.
Vegetarian wines are often filtered and fined but only with fining agents that do not contain products that are made from animals. Vegetarian wines can be fined using compounds that contain animal by-products such as egg whites and casein and still be categorized as vegetarian wine.
Vegan wines are costly and time-consuming to produce and therefore only wineries that have the time and financial resources necessary for a long drawn out process make them.
The wine ages slowly through a long natural process, where the wine clarifies itself as the lees (yeasts) and other particles in the wine begin to slowly separate from the juice, settling to the bottom of the barrel or other aging vessel that is used.
Wines that are not fined are automatically categorized as vegan. If you are looking for vegan wines then wines that have unfiltered and unfined on the label are the safest choice.
Fined wine can still be vegan as long as the fining agents do not contain any animal or animal by-products.
Is one type of wine better than another?
The answer is no, these three different wine types are all made using the highest winemaking methods none of them is better than the other. Wines are made to express their unique attributes regardless of which category they fall into.
Choosing what type of wine to drink is a personal choice and if you are unsure about how the wine was made, then your local wine professional or restaurant sommelier will be more than happy to guide you in the right direction when you choose your wines.
Winemakers have begun to adapt to changing needs of their clients over the past few decades which means that the variety of wine that is available to vegetarian and vegan wine drinkers has increased exponentially.
There is a large variety of very exciting wines to choose from so rest assured that whatever wine category you feel is best suited to your requirements, there are enough of your preferred wines available to keep you content for a lifetime.