May 2, 2014 -- Winemakers and merchants overseas are increasing transparency on labels in an effort to help vegetarians and those with severe allergies find wines made without animal byproducts.
What? Didn't you know most vintners use albumen (egg whites), casein (milk proteins) and isinglass (fish bladders) to filter their wines? It's a process known as fining, in which an agent is passed through the wine to help separate free particles from the liquid. For those who are meat- or dairy-free, this can pose an ethical dilemma.
But the Food Standards Agency in the UK is now stating that "wines produced from the 2012 vintage onwards that are made using milk or egg-derived fining agents must say this on the label if they are present in the wine in quantities greater than 0.25 mg per litre," according to a recent article in The Telegraph.
Additionally, British retailers are taking up the cause by labeling wines as vegetarian friendly or not.
Back in the states, the issue is still a murky one that requires some detective work on the part of the consumer, as wines are not required to list ingredients on their labels.
"Some wines may not be fined, or may be fined with a clay-based ingredient like bentonite," explained Eric Asimov in a New York Times column last fall on the subject. "But it is difficult to know for sure unless a wine is labeled 'unfined,' or includes an ingredients list. Few wines list ingredients, but producers like Ridge, Bonny Doon Vineyard and Shinn Estate are leading the way. And their wines are very good."
An online directory called Barnivore offers more expansive recommendations for the meat-free set, with 16,321 listings that "have been checked and often double or triple checked by the Barnivore community" the site writes on its welcome page.
Domestic vintners such as Alchemy, Airlie and Frey appear in a 51-page alphabetized list alongside international winemakers such as Marche Trebbiano Moncaro, with each labeled as "vegan friendly," "not vegan friendly" or "unknown," and many featuring a corresponding statement from the winemaker. Beyond vino, Barnivore also tracks vegan beer and liquor.
If you're curious to learn whether a label you prefer uses animal byproducts in its filtration, Barnivore also offers a standard query in multiple languages that can be sent to vineyards via e-mail.