Vegan Wine & Wellness Wednesday: The 4-1-1

HEY VEGI FAM! Valeria here :) I'm SO excited to announce this collaboration with a close friend and past client of mine who is my go-to wine & beverage babe, Mackenzie Barry!

Mackenzie is a coffee (and wine) lover, cat parent, all-around creative gal from Cleveland. We met in Barcelona when we both stayed at the same hostel during a study abroad. After I began my journey with plant-based food and nutrition, Mackenzie and I worked together to help her incorporate more veggies and exercise into her lifestyle. Now, Mackenzie works as a manager for a popular Cleveland restaurant, where she gained an interest in the wine world. (and has totally crushed it in my humble opinion, grape pun intentional :)

Please enjoy Mackenzie's introduction to Vegan Wine for the first installment of Vegan Wine & Wellness Wednesday!

Did you know not all wine is plant-based?

The science and art of winemaking has been perfected over thousands of years, and today in local wine shops we can find varietals as unique as lab-created grapes. However, just because our grapes have evolved doesn’t mean our technique has.

During the winemaking process, grapes are picked according to the winemaker’s needs and wants for that specific vintage of wine. Sometimes, a matter of hours can determine the right combination of tasting notes! Once the grapes are picked, they are delivered to the winery and destemmed/crushed, put into a vat, and left to ferment (using either commercial yeast or natural yeast). Then, the wine is pressed off, and, depending on what the winemaker decides, either left to age or bottled.

Now, this process can take an entire season or more, depending on how long the winemaker wants the wine to age, and, if left to its own devices, wine will clarify itself. While it’s in the fermentation tank or aging, the solids found in wine will sink to the bottom of the barrel, leaving you with wine that’s clarified. However, the longer the wine sits in fermentation, the less the winery can produce, and subsequently “processing aids” are added to help speed up the process. Processing aids bind to the suspended particles in wine to allow for a faster clarification process, helping to reduce the time wine needs to sit in a vat and will get you drinking faster and cheaper. They also can help correct any problems the wine might have, from cloudiness to harsh tannins. This might seem like a win-win scenario: wine drinkers get a cheaper, tastier drink,and winemakers can produce more. But if you’re a vegan or vegetarian, unfortunately many of the processing aids utilize animal products.

Egg whites, gelatin, isinglass (fish bladder), casein (milk protein), and chitosan (crustacean shells) are among some of the fining agents used to clarify wine. If you’re vegetarian fortunately you can consume some of these aids, but none are vegan. These aids help smooth out tannins, brighten the color of the wine, and even remove taint from the wine cork. And, these agents are removed before the final product is bottled, so it doesn’t make an appearance in the physical wine you’re drinking. If cross-contamination is concerning for you though, this can be a frustrating reality of modern winemaking.

Searching for Vegan Wines

Now that we know animal products are the culprit in creating wine that’s not plant-based, let’s talk about how to find wine that IS plant-based.

Local wine shops are the best: they’re usually run by people who know their wine and will be able to help you with all your questions and concerns (compared to a chain grocery store that doesn’t have a wine-specialist on-staff). Just going to my local shops, I’ve noticed many of them now have specific sections dedicated to vegan wine, which makes finding vegan wine infinitely easier. However, we don’t always have that luxury when looking for a great vino for tonight’s dinner: so, what are some ways to tell if a wine is vegan?

Looking at what labels mean:

One quick and easy way to know if a processing aid has been used is to check the label of the wine bottle. Some

modern producers make life easy and mark their wine as vegan, which can save you hassle. Another good way to tell if your wine is vegan is to see if the wine if “unfiltered” or “unfined.” Unfiltered wine hasn’t undergone any special filtration process, including any that contains animal byproducts. Unfiltered wine will usually have sediment at the bottom of the bottle, which while unharmful, can be unpleasant. So, if you’re drinking unfiltered wine, pour it slowly and leave the ounce left in the bottom that contains sediment.

Don’t worry: there are vegan wines that are filtered. Bentonite and PVPP are man-made filters commonly used in rose wines.

Biodynamic wines have been popular and praised for their innovative farming techniques that follow a specific calendar that correlates to the four elements. However, just like unfiltered wine is a sign that wine is vegan, a biodynamic label means the wine is not vegan. Animal bones are used in composting biodynamic wines in an extravagant and complex way to fertilize the vineyard soil.

Don’t be fooled by labels that say “natural” or “organic.” Organic wine is not necessarily vegan, and natural wine just means that the wine was fermented using yeast and bacteria found naturally on the vineyard grapes instead of commercial yeast. Neither is a guarantee that the wine is vegan.

What to do if you’re unsure about a wine:

If you’re at a wine shop with a knowledgeable salesperson on staff, your search might be as easy as asking them, as they likely help stock the store and know a ton about the different wines in question. However, sometimes it can be a little trickier. While it can seem a little tedious, contacting the winery of the wine you’d like to buy is the best way to ensure the wine you’re buying is vegan, as the winery will have information of the farming techniques as well as the fining process. Online wine clubs like Winc allow you to refine your searches to vegan-only wines, making the process even easier. As more consumers want their wines to be entirely plant-based, wineries are more transparent about their winemaking process. While it might warrant a little digging on your part, it might all be worth it to find a vegan wine to pair with your plant-based lifestyle.

Stay tuned for next Wednesday where we provide a full menu with wine pairings for a Vegan Date Night with you & your boo! ;)

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