Searching for Vegan Wines in St. Louis

Mar 31, 2015 at 8:00 am
Four vegan wines available in St. Louis. | Patrick J. Hurley
Four vegan wines available in St. Louis. | Patrick J. Hurley

Vegan wine sounds obvious -- wine's just grapes, right? Nope. After wine is fermented, it is often filtered and fined to improve its clarity, guard against "off" flavors and scents, and, sometimes, to get it to market more quickly. Common fining agents include milk, egg whites, shellfish, gelatin, beef blood and isinglass (that is, fish bladders).

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These fining compounds don't end up in the finished product, at least not beyond trace amounts, but ethical vegans and vegetarians would object to their use. Because the compounds aren't technically ingredients, there isn't a requirement to indicate their use on the label.

It's an inconvenience for vegans, but as a tiny fraction of wine consumers, there's little incentive to advertise wines fined with non-animal-derived compounds. But vegans aren't the only consumers who're affected by the process. A recent study published in the Clinical and Translational Allergy Journal found that even though these fining compounds could not be detected in wine samples, people with food allergies who consumed samples containing these allergens still had a reaction to them. Given the fact that milk, eggs and shellfish are three of the most common food allergens, this is a real issue for many people.

Clear labels make it easy. | Patrick J. Hurley
Clear labels make it easy. | Patrick J. Hurley

The good news is that some wineries do use non-animal fining agents and are even starting to note this on the wine labels. "Winemakers love to say, 'We're unfiltered and unfined,'" says Denise Mueller, sommelier and bar manager at the Dark Room Wine Bar and Photo Gallery (615 North Grand Boulevard; 314-531-3416). Mueller is a Certified Sommelier/Certified Specialist of Wine and co-founder and educator at the Mid-American School of Wine.

"With all the progress we've made at bars and restaurants in St. Louis -- food is labeled GF, or V, or with a carrot, or whatever -- I can't think of one [local] somm who's written a menu identifying these wines, and I plan to change that," Mueller says. She admits she has never been asked for vegan wines, but many people are unaware that animal products are often used in producing wine.

Here's the good news: Vegan-friendly wines are getting easier to find. Stores such as Whole Foods and even Trader Joe's usually have lists of them if you ask. There's also a great online resource for making sure your favorite bottle is vegan (or allergen free). Barnivore, which lists more than 20,000 bottles, is easily searchable and has direct quotes from winemakers verifying that products were not fined with animal products.

Continue for some vegan-friendly wine recommendations.