Is Your Wine Fined?


wiseGEEK Writing Contest

Why would anyone want to eat fish bladders or the skin and connective tissue of pigs and cows? Yet, every year, millions of Americans unwillingly consume these products.

More than 200 million cases of wine are sold each year in the United States alone, twice as much on the west coast as on the east coast. Americans love their wine and they are loving it more each year, according to a recent report by BeverageDaily.com. United States wine sales increased five percent last year, and may soon surpass France in the consumption of wine. A whopping 703 million gallons of wine was sold in the United States alone!

What does wine have to do with animal tissues and bladders? A lot. As we know, wine is made mostly of grapes, yeast, and sulfites. Different environmental factors such as plants and soil, as well as the weather, can affect the outcome of the wine. That's what makes each winery unique. However, there is one common attribute in the wine industry - the finished product is always cloudy.

Because many people object to cloudy wine, along with the sediment that is left floating in it, wineries send their wines through a clarification process called fining.

Fining eliminates the cloudy appearance of wine by removing the sediments. The fining agent, after being stirred into the barrel of wine, acts like a magnet by picking up the sediment in the wine and carrying it to the bottom of the wine barrel. After the wine is clarified, it is separated from the sediment during a process called racking, which leaves the residue behind.

Fining can take on a whole new meaning if you are a vegetarian or a vegan. Many of the fining agents used are animal products. These animal products include albumen, casein, gelatin, and isinglass.

Albumen, which is produced from egg whites, is the most common fining agent. Egg whites are typically used in fining red wines. Wines fined with egg whites are acceptable to vegetarians but not vegans.

Casein is a milk protein. Casein is also more commonly used in red wines. For someone with a severe milk allergy, it is wise to inquire if the wine they are drinking was fined with casein.

Gelatin is an animal protein from the skin and connective tissue of pigs and cows. Gelatin may be used in the fining process of either red or white wines.

Isinglass (also called fish glue) is made from the bladder of the sturgeon fish. Like the other agents, this works like a magnet, attracting the impurities and carrying them to the bottom of the barrel or tank, producing a clean wine. Isinglass is found in many German white wines.

Occasionally, animal blood (usually from the ox) has been used, mainly throughout the Mediterranean countries. Animal blood has been outlawed in the United States and France.

Wine is also fined by the use of earth products. These products include bentonite, diatomaceous earth, and carbon. Bentonite is the most common and is a clay powder that was originally mined in Fort Benton, Montana.

Though the agents are not an ingredient in the wine, vegetarians and vegans may object to the process by which the wine is produced, and traces of the fining agent may remain in the wine.

There are many high-quality wines that are suitable for vegans and vegetarians, and more wineries are noticing the trend and taking action. Frey Vineyards of California, for instance, has a reputation of producing only vegan wines. Organic Wine Works, also California-based, is another well-known vegan wine company. So remember, cloudiness is not an indicator of the quality of the wine. Some wineries do allow their wines to settle naturally.

A few wineries have begun placing symbols on their label indicating if the wine is vegan (VG) or vegetarian (V). This trend has been noticed in some of the European wineries.

Kosher wines are also suitable for vegetarians, but not always for vegans. Some kosher products do use egg whites in their fining process, but will not use casein or animal blood. Wines that are certified kosher will have a certification symbol on the label.

Not only may a wine label state VG, V, or have kosher certification, it may also state that it is unfiltered or unfined. Be aware, though, unfiltered does not mean unfined. A wine may be vegan if it has not been fined, or if you see sediment floating in the wine. A wine can be filtered and not clarified, or clarified and not filtered. If the wine is unfiltered it has not passed through a filtering substance. Some companies mark their wines "unfined" as a marketing technique. Currently, there are no laws in place to regulate any claims a winery may make.

Another product that has become popular in recent years is organic wine. These are not necessarily vegetarian or vegan. Many organic wineries use organic animal agents for fining.

There are wineries that produce both vegan and non-vegan wines. One vintage may be fined with isinglass, the next with bentonite. When in doubt, it is best to contact the winery and ask them about their fining process.

Your wine steward at your local health store may also be able to help you, but since veganism is new to many people, they may have to research it as well. A good wine steward will take the time to locate and special order a quality wine. Www.vegans.frommars.org and www.vnv.org.au are two online sites that list vegan and vegetarian wines.

As a vegetarian or vegan, it is wise to know what you are drinking in your wine. Do the research and discover the wide variety of wines available. Remember, a fine glass of wine is not always fined.

submitted by Written by V. Nelson