How Did That Fish End Up In My Wine?
Believe it or not that wine you’ve been drinking contains fish.
From Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio to Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc, all your favorite tipples are harboring a dirty little secret.
As we all know wine is made from grapes, but what most of us don’t know is that there are a whole host of other ingredients that go into the mix, meaning not all wines are vegan or even vegetarian friendly for that matter.
The Winemaking Process
All freshly made wines look slightly hazy because they contain tiny organic molecules such as proteins, tannins, tartrates and phenolics. These molecules are all natural and are in no way harmful, but wine drinkers want bright and clear wines, not murky and dull looking ones.
This is where the fining process comes in. The majority of wines if left to settle long enough, will self fine and self stabilize. However, wine producers traditionally use a variety of aids to help speed up the process. These aids, also known as fining agents, are used to precipitate any haze inducing molecules making them easier to remove.
The most commonly used fining agents include egg whites, milk protein, gelatin and isinglass (fish bladders). These additives are supposedly precipitated out during the filtration process, but traces of these fining agents may still be absorbed into the wine.
Many winemakers today are deciding to move towards a more natural and ethical winemaking method, which begs the question “Why bother purchasing wine that is contributing to the pain and suffering of living, feeling individuals when there’s an alternative?”
There are several animal friendly fining agents that can be used in place of the common animal derived ones including bentonite clay, carbon, limestone and many more. An even greater alternative, and one that many wine producers are now using, is not filtering or fining the wine at all rather allowing it to naturally self clarify.
The inclusion of animal products in wine, no matter how small or insignificant it may appear still directly contributes to the pain and suffering of the animals being exploited and furthermore has repercussive effects on the delicate ecosystems of our beautiful planet.
Sturgeon, the fish whose bladder membrane is used for fining, is facing numerous threats to their survival. Despite living on the earth for millions of years, they are now more critically endangered than any other group of species according to the ICUN as a result of overfishing and disturbance to their natural habitat. And of course we are all fully aware about the extreme cruelty caused the meat, dairy and egg industry.
Alcoholic drinks are in most cases exempt from declaring the use of milk, egg and fish, and are not required to state their ingredients or the fining agents used in their production, which is bad news for vegans and vegetarians alike. There has been much lobbying to change wine labeling laws in countries all over the globe, but so far only wine labels from the member states of the EU are forced to disclose the use of egg and milk fining agents (not fish) and New Zealand and Australia are required to carry an allergen warning for these ingredients.
Critics like to claim that the use of animal-derived ingredients during the fining process is irrelevant because they are not added to the wine per se, they are merely used to clarify it. This sediment then falls to the bottom and can be easily removed leaving little to no trace. What these critics don’t understand is that those among us committed to the vegan lifestyle prefer to avoid all animal products, whether they are ‘technically’ present or not. Which is why labeling is essential.
Despite short-lived outcry that labeling may cause, more information on what we are consuming is always a good thing. Clear labeling assists those who want to eliminate animal products from their diet and the bottom line is, everyone has the right to know what they are eating, or in this case drinking.
How to Tell if a Wine is Vegan
Thanks to a push from the vegan and vegetarian community, finding vegan wines isn’t the impossible mission it once was. The best place to start in determining whether a wine is vegan or not is checking the label and asking someone in store if they can assist you. You may be met with some pretty funny looks and confused responses, but don’t despair.
One surefire way of knowing if your favorite wine is animal friendly is by placing a quick call to the manufacturer.
The following sites are also an amazing resource to bookmark and refer back to:
Please note that it is not just wines that could be hiding animal products. Beers, ciders, spirits, juices, fizzy drinks and a plethora of other popular beverages are also guilty so be sure to check exactly what it is your drinking before you start guzzling.
Photo Credit: needoptic