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Vegetarian Wines

July 19, 2013 12:03 pm / by

Vegetarian?

Surprisingly few people, including vegetarians, realise that most wine is not vegetarian friendly.  Unfortunately, my experience is that staff on wine counters at supermarkets don’t realise this either! I am usually greeted with a blank stare when I ask about vegetarian wines!

Fining

The problem is that most of us like our wines to be crystal clear and bright and associate cloudiness with faulty wine.  To enable this clarity, particles large enough to cause cloudiness are removed by filtration.  However, some particles are too small for removal by filtration without potentially ruining the underlying structure and character of the wine.  These particles are dealt with through the process of fining which stimulates these tiny molecules to coagulate into larger pieces that either sink to the bottom of the wine or can be subsequently removed by filtration.  This is the issue: many fining agents are animal based such as gelatin, isinglass (made from swim bladders of fish) and chitin (lobster and crab shells).  In the past bull’s blood was even used to fine wines!

However, a number of winemakers use albumen (egg whites), egg proteins or casein (milk proteins) – these are all suitable for vegetarians but not for vegans.Vegan wines require fining with bentonite (clay of volcanic origin).

Labelling

Although there have been huge advances in labelling of food products generally, there is still much work to be done on wine labels.  Own-brand labels from the Co-Op, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s all indicate whether they are vegetarian-friendly.  In addition, online sites for Majestic Wine, Tesco Wine and Waitrose Wine all have the ability to select vegetarian wines.  However, as I have just discovered, these need to be treated with care.  I recently ordered some Ataraxia Chardonnay 2009 from Majestic for a vegetarian dinner party.  This is a superb, South African Chardonnay with tropical fruit, honey and buttery oak making it almost Burgundian in style.  My vegetarian friend, who is not normally a wine drinker, loved it.  As a result I tried to buy some more but Majestic were out of stock so I turned to my ever-reliable South African wine supplier, SA Wines Online.  Before ordering from them I asked them to confirm that the wine was vegetarian as suggested by Majestic.  They went straight to the winemaker who was clear that gelatin was used in the winemaking process!  To be fair to Majestic they responded promptly when I pointed this out to them and they are to be congratulated on a wide range of both vegetarian and vegan wines on their online list which are clearly marked as such.

The Solution?

In the longer term there needs to be lobbying from the vegetarian/vegan community to ensure winemakers get the message that whether a wine contains animal products is increasingly important to consumers.  In the meantime those looking for vegetarian wines should visit http://www.veggiewines.co.uk/ and for vegan wines visit http://veganwinesonline.co.uk/.  However, there are a large number of wines which, although not labelled as such, are vegetarian friendly.  If you have the time and inclination it is always worth emailing the winemaker directly.  In my experience they are very happy to answer friendly queries about whether their wines are vegetarian and/or vegan.  Alternatively, you can always ask a question here and I will endeavour to find out for you.  In the meantime I can announce that one of my former wines of the month, The Foundry Roussanne, is vegetarian.  Here is a comment direct from the winemaker: “Many thanks for your enquiry. The wine is vegetarian, but not vegan as we have to use Casein (milk fining) to clarify the wine.”

In future I will indicate whether wines I recommend are either vegetarian or vegan friendly.  There is an interesting article in the August 2013 issue of Cook Vegetarian by Jilly Goolden on pairing wine with vegetarian food.  I also hope to blog more on vegetarian food and wine pairings shortly.

 

2 Comments

  1. lloyd says:

    And, of course, there are a number of wines that are unfined and unfiltered which are suitable for vegans. See a previous wine of the month http://chezlloyd.co.uk/wine-of-the-month-march-2012-springfield-estate-methode-ancienne-chardonnay-2006-sa-wines-online-18-99/

  2. Thanks Lloyd; I didn’t know any of that! Useful for charity fundraising events to make sure there is a vegetarian-friendly wine on offer.

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