When people make the decision to go vegan, they tend to focus on ensuring that the food they eat is free of animal products. Many new vegans are surprised to discover, though, that they must also consider the use of animal products when choosing what to drink.
Proteins and other solids can give wine a cloudy appearance and affect the flavor. Winemakers use fining agents to remove the solids and adjust the flavor. These agents usually either bind with the solids due to the opposite electrical charges of the two substances or simply absorb the impurity. Fining agents like egg albumin or gelatin made from the swim bladders of fish (aka isinglass) are, obviously, derived from animals. Others, such as Bentonite clay and silicon dioxide, are not.
Unless you happen to be at an all-vegan restaurant, where the wine list has been vetted, your server is unlikely to know which wines are suitable for vegans. Some wineries indicate on their label that the wine is vegan-friendly. You could ask your server to check the labels of a few selections for you, but that could become tiresome. It would be far better to research ahead of time. After all, you’re probably previewing the menu anyway and calling the restaurant to ask about their vegan selections. Use the opportunity to secure a bottle of your choice or to allow the sommelier time to look into it for you. Alternatively, you could pay the corkage fee and bring your own.
If you opt to bring your own, the best resource for wine shopping (or, in a pinch, for looking up wines from your table) is Barnivore, which has both a free app and an online version. It’s been around the longest and has the largest database, which also includes beer and liquor.
There are many excellent wines out there made without animal products. Come taste for yourself at the GastroFest 2016 vegan wine and charcuterie tasting, hosted by FreshJax, in the special events tent. The event listing and ticket link can be found at gastrojax.org/gastrofest/venue-schedule. Cheers!