What’s all the fuss about vegan wines?

Photo: Getty Images

And is it really true that they don’t actually give you a hangover? Helen McGinn investigates

Added on

By Helen McGinn on

Ever seen the words “suitable for vegans” on a bottle of wine and wondered what’s in there to make it unsuitable in the first place? After all, we’re talking about a bottle full of squashed, fermented grapes – so far, so vegan.

But, as part of the winemaking process, most wines are “fined” to get any lurking particles out. We’re talking yeasts, bits of grape skin or pulp, that kind of thing. As well as removing any unwanted sediment, fining also leaves the wine clear, rather than hazy, and helps prevent it from developing any unwanted smells or tastes once in the bottle.

Thing is – and apologies if this puts you off your glass of wine – it’s the stuff that’s used to fine a wine in the first place that determines whether it’ll be suitable for vegans or not. Fining agents include casein, which is milk-based, or albumen, otherwise known as egg whites. Then there’s isinglass (made from fish) or gelatin, another animal by-product. After fining, the wine is usually filtered, but minute traces may remain.

However, lots of wines are fined using vegan-friendly alternatives, including bentonite, a type of clay, or synthetic fining agents. And some wines aren’t fined or filtered at all, the winemaker preferring to leave them as they are. These, then, are all suitable for vegans. And there are plenty of them. The problem is sometimes finding them in the first place.

As it stands, there’s no requirement for wine producers to state whether a wine is suitable for vegetarians or vegans on the label, but more producers are doing so. And plenty of retailers include specific information on their websites so that you can search their sites by category. But are the wines any good?

Well, yes. And no. Being vegan isn’t a measure of quality when it comes to wine – there are good and bad. And, likewise, just because a wine is organic (meaning that it’s made from grapes grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides in the vineyard) doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be suitable for vegans. I know. It’s enough to give you a headache before you’ve even pulled the cork.

Talking of headaches, some are convinced that drinking vegan wines doesn’t give you a headache. I wish I could say that’s true but: alcohol. No matter if the wine is organic, vegan-friendly, natural or low in sulphur, if there’s alcohol in there, drink too much and it’s going to give you a headache.

So, where to find them? Most supermarkets now stock a fairly good range (60% of M&S’s wine range is now suitable for vegans, for example). And there are some great online retailers doing the same. Here’s a pick of current favourites:

Cuvée Rosée Coteaux Varois En Provence 2017 1.5l, £19, M&S

I know wine in a box/bag might not have the best reputation, but this isn’t just any wine bag – this is M&S’s absolute banker of a Provence rosé (the equivalent of two bottles of it) and its glass-free packaging format solves all camping/festival/picnic wine dilemmas. And as well as being vegan, the bag means the wine stays fresher for longer, up to six weeks. Win-win.

Berry Bros & Rudd Pinot Grigio 2016, £9.95,

There’s a lot of pinot grigio around, but not much of it tastes as good as this one. Made exclusively for Berry Brothers, it comes from northern Italy, in Friuli, and the secret is six months of ageing the wine on its lees (yeasts after fermentation). This adds more weight and flavour to the wine while keeping it light, fresh and lemony overall. In other words, perfect PG.

Domaine Jones Fitou 2015, £14.50, The Wine Society

Katie Jones moved to the Languedoc in southern France a decade ago and bought a vineyard no one else wanted. She loved the old vines, some of them over 100 years old, and had a feeling they could make good wine. She was right. Made from a blend of carignan and grenache grapes, this is simply gorgeous with bramble fruits, spice and a touch of fig. Beautifully packaged, too.

Fox & Flamingo Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, £20,

This is somewhere between a rosé and a light red, made pink by the winemaker leaving the crushed red grapes on their skins for eight hours. From South Africa’s Franschhoek region, it’s properly juicy with fresh, crisp cranberry fruit flavours. A brilliant food wine, too. All of the wines from this particular producer, Black Elephant Vintners, are suitable for vegans. And the online retailer, Red Squirrel, lists all its vegan wines in one place.

Proudly Vegan Merlot 2016, £6.99, Ocado

Whereas finding the words "suitable for vegans" on an actual wine label sometimes requires glasses/very good eyesight, you can’t miss this one. With "Proudly Vegan" plastered across the front, this new range (there’s a sauvignon blanc, too) is well made and equally well priced for a perfectly quaffable merlot from Chile.

For more wine recommendations, visit Helen’s blog


Sign up

Love this? Sign up to receive our Today in 3 email, delivering the latest stories straight to your inbox every morning, plus all The Pool has to offer. You can manage your email subscription preferences at My Profile at any time

Photo: Getty Images
Tagged in:
food honestly

Tap below to add to your homescreen

Love The Pool? Support us and sign up to get your favourite stories straight to your inbox