7 Vegan Wines You Have to Try (and Why All Wine Isn’t Vegan in the First Place)
We hate to break it to you, but being vegan isn't as easy as eating tofu and calling it a day. Did you know that animal-derived stabilizing agents are often used in the winemaking process? (Darn it.) Lucky for you, natural wines are growing in popularity and most of them are vegan. Still, some of the labels can get confusing, so read on for the full scoop on vegan wines, then join us for a guilt-free glass of the good stuff.
Hang on, why isn’t all wine vegan?
The traditional winemaking process involves a step known as fining, when small particles are strained out of the wine. The stuff that gets removed includes proteins and sometimes tannins, which can throw a wine out of balance when it's present in excessive amounts. The result is a bright, clear wine that you can hold up to the light and look straight through. Many winemakers rely on fining agents to help filter the wine. The most common fining agents are albumin (egg white), casein (milk protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein). These agents are not additives: They go into the wine to attract the tiny particles and once their work is done they, too, are strained out with the precipitate. Ultimately, only trace amounts, if any, of the animal-derived fining agents remain in the bottled wine. Still, many vegans avoid goods that rely on animal products at any point in this process. As such, these traditional filtered wines are not technically vegan.
And what’s the deal with vegan wines?
Here’s the thing—the traditional process described above is not completely necessary, and many winemakers and producers have joined the natural movement, which is basically a no-fuss method of bringing wine to the table. The natural wine philosophy is focused on delivering a product that hasn’t been altered, so nothing is added and nothing is taken away. As a result, natural wines are free of sulfites and unfined. The good news for vegans is that natty wines are all the rage right now, and especially easy to find in boutique wine stores that sell small-production wines. So when you go vegan wine shopping, stick to the coolest, smallest shop in your neighborhood and ask for a natural, unfined wine. Just don’t be surprised when you pour yourself a glass and notice it looks a little cloudy, or if you see sediment at the bottom of the bottle—that’s all normal and none of it is harmful to drink.
One last thing: You can actually find wine that is both fined and vegan—it’s just much harder to identify as a consumer. Some winemakers use vegan-friendly, clay-based agents to aid the fining process, but those are the kind of details you are unlikely to encounter on the label of a bottle and only a very experienced salesclerk will know. So unless you have an opportunity to ask the winemaker directly, it’s safest to stick with natural, unfiltered wines or anything that has a vegan symbol stamped on the bottle.
Ready to start sipping? Here are 7 vegan wines we love.
1. Georges Lignier Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, Burgundy, France 2018 (Pinot Noir/Gamay)
This Passetoutgrain boasts elegance and balance that’s hard to find for the price. In other words, feel free to bust this classy bottle out at a dinner party—it definitely will not disappoint.
2. Brand Riesling Trocken, Pfalz, Germany, 1L 2018
Rehydrate with this light, super crisp Riesling—it has a touch of stone fruit and great minerality. Bonus: It comes in a liter bottle so you can share the joy.
3. Envínate Albahra, Castilla-La Mancha, Spain 2017 (Garnacha Tintorera)
Crafted by natural winemakers, this approachable wine is slightly funky, dense with red fruit and balanced with a subtle earthy edge. Indigenous grapes, old vines and artistry combine to create magic in a glass. If you can find it, buy it.
4. Burlotto Langhe Nebbiolo 2016
The vines may be younger, but this is one of the best Langhe Nebbiolos out there—dense, spicy and floral, it’s fair to call this old-school bottle a junior Barolo. The family-owned vineyard is famous for organic and natural winemaking practices, and they were doing it before it was cool.
5. Matthiason Tendu Red 2018
This is a California wine with Old World flavor; it was made by radical winemaker Steve Matthiasson and aged in neutral oak to achieve a mouthwatering, well-balanced wine that has indie cred and can please Grandma too.
6. Santa Tresa Terre Siciliano IGT Frappato
A fresh, lighter-bodied red that’s full of red fruit. This budget-friendly bad boy pairs well with warm weather—just be sure to put a chill on it for maximum thirst-quenching pleasure.
7. Vinho Verde 2019 Veve
Here's how this wine is described on the bottle: “Hand-harvested, estate fruit. Delicate, perfumed, saline, ridicledogs.” (We’re not sure what that last thing means either, but we like it.) Plus, with this price point we’re inclined to sip it every day of summer.