Monday, February 1, 2010

Is all wine vegan? How about gluten-free?

If bottles of wine came with an ingredients list, like all of our other foodstuffs, shouldn't it just read something like "INGREDIENTS: grapes"? These days with ingredients labels as long as term papers, we've been trained to expect that there is more to it. Wine grapes get mixed with a lot of things before they enter the bottle, but just what kind of dietary effects will that have on the wine?

If you are vegan, be on the alert. Oddly enough, not all wines are free from animal products. Many winemakers use isinglass (fish-bladder), gelatin, or egg whites in a clarification process called fining. These ingredients are added to the top of a vat of wine and slowly percolate through the wine, catching suspended particles and foreign bodies. They are then drained off from the bottom and the wine is bottled. There is a good chance that only trace elements of any of these fining agents would be left behind in the wine, but just the fact that it was processed with non-vegan item technically makes it non-vegan. So if you're vegan or are buying a bottle of wine as a gift for a vegan friend, look for "un-fined" wines or wines fined with bentonite (clay).

Now for those with Celiac's Disease, you know beer is off the menu (unless you've found a sorghum beer you like), but what about wine? I had a friend ask me this yesterday and while my instinct was to say "sure, wine is safe!", my previous lesson with thinking all wine was vegan made me think twice. I went through all of the possible winemaking additives and couldn't come up with any way any sort of gluten would make it into the wine. Then I Googled. One site I found claimed that some oak barrels were held together using a putty made from flour. Every barrel I've ever seen fabricated was made with just wood staves and metal rings. No slurry or putty of any sort. More Googling confirmed this. So those that can't have gluten, rejoice! Wine is still safe!

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