Jane MacQuitty / The Times 2008.08.30 Vegan wines. Once cranky, now mainstream. Vegan and vegetarian-approved wines are increasingly being sought by drinkers, including Times readers.
Once cranky, now mainstream, vegan and vegetarian-approved wines are increasingly being sought by drinkers, including Times readers. One wrote in anxious to find a champagne that was suitable for vegetarians, and also grumbled that there are no pubs or restaurants in her area stocking vegetarian wines. Part of the problem is that vegan and vegetarian wines often don’t include this information on the label. Equally, very few outlets take the trouble to flag up the wines on their lists that do pass muster.
Even specialist wine merchants appear hazy about what constitutes a vegetarian or vegan wine, and do not press their wine producers for complete clarification. Vegetarian wine rules allow casein, the main protein in milk, to be used to fine and clarify wine, along with albumin, or egg white, routinely used to filter fine red wines such as claret and rioja. Vegan-approved wines ban casein and albumin, plus other animal products including old-fashioned fining agents such as dried blood powder and isinglass (derived from sturgeon and other fish). Gelatine, a very effective fining agent, is banned by both vegetarian and vegan wine producers, who prefer to use bentonite, a special clay, to fine their wines. Merchants always point out that once wines have been fully fermented and bottled, only minuscule trace elements of these agents are left, but to many vegans and vegetarians this is not a comfort.
The good news is that labels are increasingly becoming more detailed – and specific about the fining and filtering agents used. Antipodean-based vegan and vegetarian wine drinkers are best served, with detailed codes and descriptions. In the UK, unlike our foodstuffs, it continues to be illegal to quote the full ingredients on wine labels, although admirably, the Co-op does just that for all its own-label wines.
Vintage Roots (0800 9804992) has one of the longest lists of vegan and vegetarian-suitable wines I have seen all year. My vegetarian champagne fan might want to seek out the adequate, but not especially exciting, earthy, oaky 1996 Fleury Champagne (£42), and should know that Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon’s non-vintage bubbles are vegetarian-acceptable, too – though again, neither shines currently. Better to scoop up either of this week’s Vintage Roots star buys, or a floral, spicy Austrian white, 2007 Meinklang, Grüner Veltliner (£7.50). Classy barbecue reds include the vegan and vegetarian-approved bold, inky 2004 Quinta do Côa Reserva from the Douro (£12.99) and the sweet, creamy, red fruits-stashed 2005 Basconcillos from the Ribera del Duero (£9.90). Or go for the Gallic vegan and vegetarian-suitable equivalent on sale at Waitrose for £14.99, Patrick Lesec’s delicious, violet and plum-stashed 2006 Gigondas Les Romains, equally good with the first bold game dishes.