Wine Isn't Vegetarian?!?

Rachel Tepper Paley
May 3, 2014

Photo credit: Leigh Beisch/StockFood

Vegetarians, put down that glass of wine. Vegans, stop sipping that pint of Guinness. We hate to be the bearers of bad news, but it’s possible the beverages in your hands contain trace amounts of egg, fish bladder, and milk. And those might not jibe with your dietary choices.

Since the 1800s, Guinness has relied upon isinglass, a type of collagen derived from fish’s bladders, to remove impurities from its stout in a process called fining. Some of today’s winemakers use isinglass for the same purpose, in addition to casein (a protein derived from milk) or albumen (egg white).

The Telegraph notes that only trace amounts of these ingredients wind up in the final product, but according to a 2011 study published in the European Food Safety Authority Journal, some subjects allergic to eggs experienced an allergic reaction when they drank wine fined with albumen. Clearly, this suggests that some egg whites used during the fining process made it into the wine bottle.

There are several new vegetarian- and vegan-friendly wines on the market—check out a rundown here—but since United States labeling laws don’t require alcohol manufacturers to list their products’ ingredients on labels, it’s often difficult to know exactly what you’re drinking. Therein lies the problem for vegans, vegetarians, and people with food allergies.

Of course, those who want to avoid ingesting non-vegan or non-vegetarian ingredients can look for wines and beers that have not been fined.

"Sometimes they will state this on the label—’unfined and unfiltered’—because winemakers making this more languid, ‘real and hairy’ style of wine are proud of what they do," reports The Telegraph. "Such wines usually have more body because there are more solids in suspension—just think of the difference between filter and espresso coffee."

Hope you like “real and hairy” wines, veggie friends.