They’re made from fermented grape juice after all. Unfortunately, it’s not quite so simple. Many winemakers use animal products in the “fining” process and have done for decades.
All young wines are hazy and contain tiny molecules such as proteins, tartrates, tannins and phenolics. These are all natural, and in no way harmful. However, the majority of wine drinkers like their wines to be clear and bright so most growers employ the use of agents to ensure this clarity. These fining agents can include boiled fish bladders (isinglass) or animal parts (gelatin); it could be blood or bone marrow, egg whites (albumen), milk protein (casein), fish oil or shellfish fibres, none of which are vegan-friendly. Mercifully for vegans, a ban on bulls’ blood as a fining agent was imposed by the European Union in 1997 as part of measures to fight BSE (mad cow disease).
“the recent move to more natural winemaking methods, allowing nature to take its course, has led to more vegan and vegetarian-friendly wines.”
Subsequently and thanks to the vegan surge, many supermarkets and wine producers have wised up and ditched the animal products. Replacing them are clay- or charcoal-based alternatives, safe for both vegans and vegetarians alike.
In addition to Veganism gaining in popularity in the UK, the recent move to more natural winemaking methods, allowing nature to take its course, has led to more vegan and vegetarian-friendly wines. An increasing number of wine producers around the globe are electing not to fine or filter their wines, leaving them to self-clarify and self-stabilise. Such wines usually mention on the label ‘not fined and/or not filtered’, which is a blessing to the health-conscious consumer. Biodynamic winemakers, however, often use animal-derived products, such as cow horns, horse tails and manure, in the vineyard, thereby deeming the vineyard at least non-vegan, but this is entirely another topic and one for another blog post.
Frustratingly, the clarity of labelling ends here; few producers are as keen to label their wines as Vegan or Vegetarian friendly (although some retailers such as Marks and Spencer do this very effectively); this is largely due to the fact that there is no regulatory body to certify the meat and dairy-free element nor any obligation to list ingredients on any wine label. This, as you can imagine, makes the task at Wright Wine Company HQ, of listing Vegan and Vegetarian friendly wines, tricky to say the least. It’s been a laborious task but we’ve managed it and now have our very own Vegan and Vegetarian (as well as organic and biodynamic) Wine List on our website….until we buy the next new wine and need to update it! There are hundreds of different wines on this list – and we mean, hundreds! (Click the image below to download a PDF)
So, can you taste the difference between vegan and non-vegan wines? We’ll leave it up to you and your taste buds to decide but, for what it’s worth, I’d be hard pushed to taste the difference. Below are a few of my personal favourites to help you in your research. Perhaps the most important message to draw from this is that Veganuary most certainly doesn’t mean dry January!
Gemma’s Vegan Picks
Cava, Brut, Marquis de Lares, NV, Spain - £9.10
This excellent value fizz is fresh and vigorous with a fine mousse and flavours of orange, grapefruit, lemon and biscuit notes. Made to the same exacting standards as Champagne, yet at a fraction of the cost. I urge you to swap your Prosecco for this sometime. I promise you won’t look back!
Rosé, Pinot Grigio, Colline Teatine, I.G.T., Bella Modella 2018 - £7.25
Vegan wines come in all price brackets and colours and this Pinot Grigio rosé is one of our most popular wines. It features on many local bar and restaurant wine lists and is all too easy to drink, come rain or shine!
Enira, Bessa Valley, Bulgaria, Vegan, Enira 2015 - £15.00
Bulgaria’s nod to a Bordeaux blend with a hint of the Rhône from Syrah and what a triumph it is! With vanilla and menthol aromas on the nose, the palate shows blackberry and raspberry fruit with soft, supple tannins and a long finish. Perfect with grilled meats.
Chateau Musar, Bekaa Valley, 1999 - £35.00
This iconic Lebanese wine producer needs no introduction and the 1999 vintage has been compared to “the great” vintage of 1959. A blend of Cinsault, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon, as with all Chateau Musar vintages, this exceptional wine shows intensely ripe cassis and cherry fruit on the nose with secondary characteristics of mushroom and forest undergrowth followed by a hint of vanilla and chocolate. The excellent acidity and firm, ripe tannins result in a wine which appears much fresher and more youthful than 20 years old. It’s incredible, you have to taste it to believe it.