First published in The Irish Times, Saturday 24th March, 2018
Given the surge of interest in vegetarian and vegan food, it is surprising that there hasn’t been more interest in meat and dairy-free wines (and beers too). This could be for two reasons; either wine drinkers (incorrectly) assume that all wines are not only vegetarian but vegan too, or vegans don’t drink wine.
While your glass of wine is very unlikely to contain any animal parts, there are two fairly common non-vegan methods of clarifying wine. Traditionally, a great many wines were routinely fined with egg whites to remove unwanted tannins. (In areas such as Jerez, a number of delicious sweet delicacies are based on egg yolks, as a means of using up the leftovers). These days powdered dried egg white is more common. Isinglass, made from dried fish bladders, is also frequently used (it is used in beer as well).
Gelatin (animal parts) or casein (milk protein) are sometimes added for juice clarification prior to fermentation.
Producers argue that all of the fining agents are removed before bottling, but vegan website Peta suggests tiny amounts may remain. There are plenty of vegan options, usually products based on clay or charcoal, and these are being increasingly used. Natural and other non-interventionist wines are sometimes bottled unfiltered and unfined, and will therefore be vegan. However, an organic or biodynamic wine is not necessarily vegetarian or vegan. (I wonder are organic wine producers obliged to use organic eggs whites?)
As far as I could see from my research, nowadays the majority of wines are vegan, but it can be very difficult to know by looking at the bottle, as very few give details on the label. Marks & Spencer is an exception; all of its wines have a back label noting whether the wine is vegetarian or vegan. Most are vegan. Both O’Briens and Wines Direct indicate it on their websites. Own label Tesco wines carry a vegetarian but not a vegan symbol on the back label.
Does it really matter to the wine consumer? Last year, SuperValu did some consumer research and vegan registered as being of less importance, with only 1 per cent of its wine customers showing interest (as opposed to 13 per cent for organic). However, wine buyer Kevin O’Callaghan suspects that the actual number could be higher, as many consumers may be unaware that wine is not always vegan-friendly.
Gerard Maguire of 64 Wine in Glasthule says, “Only a handful of customers seem bothered. We are asked about it less than 10 times a year.”
We will return to wine labels, additives and treatments again in a week or two. In future, as producers will be obliged by law to carry back labels with health warnings, maybe more will also include this information? This week, four wines, all 100 per cent vegetarian and vegan.
Mayne de Beauregard 2016, Bergerac Rouge
A Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot that offers supple easy plum fruits and a soft finish. A good all-purpose wine to pair with most red or white meats – my bottle went down well with stir-fried chicken and red peppers.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
San Simone Rondover Rosso 2015, IGT della Venezie
Mouth-watering tangy, sweet-sour damsons and morello cherries with an earthy touch. Enjoy with charcuterie, or grilled pork chops with sage.
Stockists: Wines Direct, Mullingar; Arnott’s; winesdirect.ie
Leeuwenkuil Bushvine Cinsault 2017, Swartland
Light and refreshing with very moreish crunchy red cherry fruits, and a smooth finish. Roast Mediterranean vegetables or pasta with a fresh herby tomato sauce.
Stockists: Marks & Spencer
Yalumba Organic Shiraz 2016, South Australia
A more elegant style of Shiraz, wonderfully perfumed with medium-bodied dark forest fruits and a twist of spice. Try it with a gourmet burger and chips.
Stockists: O’Briens; Dunnes Stores; Joyce’s; No21 Off-licences.