What does it mean for a Champagne or other sparkling wine to be vegan? Isn't all wine vegan? —Dee, New York
If you're planning your New Year's libations and want to celebrate in style but also in line with a vegan diet, you may be concerned about the practices used to make the bubbly you're about to pop. Vegans should be aware that animal products (such as isinglass derived from fish bladders, casein from milk protein, gelatin or egg whites) are routinely used in winemaking, during the fining process.
Fining removes solid particles from wine, creating a stable, clear and pleasant-looking product instead of a cloudy-looking drink prone to developing off-aromas or flavors. To accomplish this, typically a fining agent is used; it binds to loose particles in the wine and causes them to settle out so that sediment can be easily removed. The fining agents are either undetectable in bottled wine, or only trace amounts remain; still, some countries require that wine labels list any fining agent used if is considered an allergen, such as eggs or fish, but such labeling is voluntary in the United States. For people who oppose the use of animal products in any way, the very contact of these agents with the wine would deter them from imbibing.
If you're looking for vegan bubbly or still wines, you're in luck. Plenty of wines are made without fining, while other wines are fined with inorganic products, such as bentonite, a powdered clay. Some storied Champagne houses—including Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, Taittinger and now Duval-Leroy—have recently revealed that their wines are vegan. (Duval-Leroy relies on natural settling over a long period of time.) And California's Domaine Carneros, owned by Taittinger, has been making vegan sparklers for several years..
If you are concerned about what fining agents are used in your bubbly, many winery websites list technical details for their wines, or you can always call or e-mail the tasting room and ask. Vegan or not, here's a toast to a happy New Year!—Douglas De Jesus