Sebastiano Castiglioni, an Italian winery proprietor is known for his outspoken views on the topic of plant-based cooking. After becoming vegetarian as a teenager, he went vegan at 15 and then, more than 10 years ago, extended his commitment to Querciabella. Querciabella is now an organic and biodynamic Chianti Classico estate.
“I didn’t want to be part of the way conventional agriculture devastates the environment and abuses animals,” he says. “We removed all animal products from every aspect of our winemaking process, including the vineyards. You don’t need them to make great wine.” The proof is in his reds and pricy white, which have steadily become livelier, more vibrant, and more intense.
Plant-based trends are booming, as we all know. According to Spins and the non-profit Good Food Institute, the U.S. saw a 27% increase in vegan grocery sales between 2020 and 2021. U.K. supermarket chain Sainsbury’s recent Future of Food report predicted that fully 25% of the country’s population will be vegan or vegetarian by 2025.
While health issues are one reason for concern, the other is eco-consciousness. The U.K.’s Vegan Society says the diet will reduce your food carbon footprint by up to 50%. In May, one of New York’s top restaurants, Eleven Madison Park, announced that its food menu would go almost entirely vegan.
It’s possible to wonder how wine fits into the philosophy of avoiding animal exploitation. It’s just fermented grape juice, right? Isn’t that automatically vegan? It’s not.
Here’s what you need to know:
Some winemakers still use traditional animal-derived “fining” agents such as egg whites, gelatin, or casein (derived from milk) to clarify the liquid, reduce bitterness, or bind and extract excess tannins in red wines, leaving behind softer ones. Although the agents are removed prior to bottling they can still be used.
Bentonite is a clay-based substitute that’s animal-free. But it’s hard to identify which wines use what, since neither the EU nor the U.S. requires ingredients or winemaking processes to be listed on labels. Just because a wine is organic, biodynamic, natural, or kosher doesn’t mean it’s also vegan.
One hint: If the front or back label says the wine is unfined, it’s vegan friendly—if you define vegan as simply not introducing animal products into the wine itself.
Bibendum in the U.K. has made it possible to list the names online of major vegan wine retailers. The Barnivore Vegan Alcohol Directory lists more than 5,000, but it isn’t always up to date.
Wineries have been able to officially trademark their vegan wines due to growing interest among wine lovers. Larry Stone, co-founder of Lingua Franca, says the top Oregon winery did it “because it’s important to so many people to verify our wines have no animal by-products.” (All those in the list below are certified.)
But there’s a big catch to all this. Vegan wine certification covers only the wines that are made after grapes have been picked. This blurry definition is called vegan wine. The European Vegetarian Union doesn’t give its V-label to bottled wines sealed with beeswax. However, it certifies producers who fertilize the vines with animal manure. This certification is not acceptable to vegans who follow a more inclusive approach to their diets. Traditional biodynamic methods such as the burying of cow horns with manure are non-vegan.
Querciabella’s completely animal-free, vineyard-to-glass approach isn’t the norm for wineries with vegan certification. Still, the U.S.’s first all-vegan wine subscription club and online wine shop, veganwines.com, claims to ensure that its winemakers aren’t using any animal by-products, from soil to bottle.
When in doubt, consult a winery’s website or call it for further information.
Restaurants are starting to list vegan-friendly wines with some symbol. Gautier Soho London has made it a vegan-friendly restaurant since June.
New York’s Eleven Madison Park, which drew wide attention for the plant-based menu it debuted in June, doesn’t quite describe itself as “vegan.” The wine list, which features several Bordeaux châteaux that fine with egg whites, such as Château d’Armailhac, is decidedly not vegan. Watson Brown, the wine director, says that his objective isn’t to alter the wine selection but to present the finest wines. Many are naturally vegan though not always labeled. When consumers request a vegan wine, sommeliers steer guests to regions and producers that don’t fine their wines.
You don’t have to learn a new set of rules to match vegan wine and food. A vegan pinot noir works equally well with mushroom risotto as it does with a regular one.
Two main principles are involved. Since vegan food doesn’t include butter or animal fat, wines with less oak, alcohol, and tannin tend to match best. It is important to consider the texture and how you cook. Both roasted beets, and grilled cabbage are great pairings with red wine.
9 Vegan-Certified Wines You Can Enjoy
NV Champagne Leclerc -Briant Brut
A long biodynamic history has been recorded for this revived Champagne house. It is known for quirky innovations like aging champagnes at 60 m below sea level or maturing wine in a barrel with gold. This non-vintage cuvée is bold and intense, with aromas of golden delicious apples and fresh croissants.
2019 Babich Headwaters Organic Marlborough Sauvignon White
The white wine is bright and fresh with aromas of orange blossom and citrus, as well as herbal and tangy flavors. The winery claims its grapes aren’t touched by animal-based fertilizers or sprays. Use asparagus and salad.
2020 Miguel Torres Cordillera de los Andes Chardonnay
Grapes from northern Chile’s cool Limari Valley go into this fine-boned, spicy-smoky white from eco-conscious producer Torres. It’s crisp and savory, with a ripe, creamy texture that pairs well with vegetarian risotto.
2017 Domaine Wachau Riesling Terrassen Federspiel
An entry-level white from one of Austria’s top large estates, this bright, fresh, dry Riesling exudes a zesty lime and peachy fruitiness. You can pair it with a delicious cauliflower curry.
2020 Chateau Sainte Marguerite Love Provence Rose
Salmon-colored and delicate, this refreshing, silky-textured organic cru classé rosé is a blend of mostly grenache and cinsault. Try it with Vietnamese Vegan Spring Rolls or a Tofu Tortilla.
2019 CVNE Organic Rioja
A historic Spanish producer created this wine with bold fruit flavours and a mineral finish. This is the perfect pairing for a bean chili or lentil chili.
2016 Querciabella Chianti Classico
The super-classic and polished Chianti is a superb vintage with pure rose petals aromas and tart cherry flavours. You can pair this wine with grilled veggies.
2018 Lingua Franca Avni Pinot Noir
The winery’s pinots have been vegan since the second vintage, 2017. This one is fragrant and juicy—especially delicious with earthy mushroom dishes or roasted beets.
2019 Vietti Barbera d’Asti
This bright and tangy red is full of energy and fruit. It comes from a high-quality producer. This one is great with vegan pizza.
2016 Avignonesi Vino Nobile di Montepulciano
This wine is rich and savoury and has hints of tobacco and dark berry. It comes from a Tuscan vineyard that’s also biodynamic certified. It’s a good match for baked eggplant.