Veganism is not new, its a way of life that has been followed in select cultures and religions around the world. A vegan’s diet is vegetarian but in addition also takes out fish, eggs and any form of dairy products from the diet. If you are a truly disciplined and holistic vegan, you would go a step forward and extend it to your clothing and your way of life by avoiding honey, leather goods and jackets and probably even visits to caged zoos and aquarium. The whole concept is to avoid any form of exploitation for human gains. And by the looks of the number of younger generation adopting it (which has tripled in the past decade in the UK alone), it clearly shows how responsible the millennials feel towards taking care of their and other’s lives. Until a few decades ago, it was limited to select cultures, religions and faiths around the world. Thought of initially as a cult, its significance got re-ignited in the 1980s when a scientific research conducted by Dr Ornish, proved that following a plant based diet not just prevents but also ‘reverses’ heart disease in patients who adopt this diet on a medium to long term basis. Heart disease has rampantly savaged the world population with adults as young as 30 now being detected with some form of heart ailments: the cause being multiple, the way to reverse it seems simple.....with a plant based diet. Heart disease is not just to do with stress, it is also a combination of our diets and how our eating habits have changed over the generations and the reduced physical activity that has impacted our body’s metabolism.
Not just to celebrate Veganuary but also to meet the growing demand of veganism, supermarkets in the UK such as Tesco, Coop and even Morrison's (as I observed during one of my recent visits to investigate their vegan meals) are now making a push towards stocking fresh and frozen vegan products. These are now extending into “vegan wines” which is a great step towards appealing to the conscientious drinkers of our society. Coop has introduced around 23 wines to its portfolio that are claimed to be in the vegan category with a goal to release a total of 100 by the end of 2018. That sounds pretty committed and serious. And why not!? Because the truth is that most wines are not vegan!
The process of making wine is largely natural with yeast that takes over the grape fermentation. But where the dietary dynamics come into picture is towards the end of this production cycle. Usually wines undergo a clarification step that is one of the finishing steps in wine production. Clarification basically involves removing suspended particles such as dead yeast and bacteria from the wine and making it completely microbe and taint free. A process in this clarification is called ‘fining’ which not only removes unwanted proteins, tartrates and tannins but also takes away unwanted astringency and oxidised notes to add stability to the wine. To do this, products such as gelatin (taken out of pig and cow skins and bones), milk protein such as casein, isinglass (a raw product taken out of swim bladder of sturgeons), egg albumen, even bull’s blood (seriously?) have been traditionally used as fining agent. Thankfully bull’s blood got banned in the EU but the other ingredients are still in use and perfectly considered normal. Sadly… none of them are vegan!
So what do these fining agents do? These agents have a charge associated with them that is exactly opposite to the suspended particles in the wine and when added they attract the wine contents like magnet, instantly coagulating or flocculating on contact with them, and are then filtered out in the next step. Not many of us are aware about this process and to make things more complicated, these fining agents are never even mentioned at the back of the wine label! Why? Basically because there has not been a need to do so until now!
Vegan wines is a recent concept and has only in the last 8-10 years really started gaining traction in the consumer world as more people take up vegan diets either. Vegan wines use alternative agents such as Bentonite clay, charcoal derived from plant matter, silicon and even potato products that are now being used for fining. Another way is to avoid fining all together and keep the wine unfiltered which may perhaps lower the aesthetic value of the wine but it has not yet been claimed to diminish the flavours or age-ability of the wine in any way!
Some of the vegan wines that you can look for in the supermarkets are:
Coops Irresistable Leyda Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Chile 2017 (Coop £7.49)
A stunning cool climate sauvignon blanc grown very close to the coast, the wine has fresh notes of lime, green pepper and gooseberries with refreshing mouth watering acidity. Classic saline and grassy finish. A delicate wine with purity made for an easy drinking style! Great with grilled vegetables, vegan morrocan tangine and ofcourse any vegan pasta.
Coop Irresistible Bio Bio Malbec, Chile (Coop, £6.99)
Located in the upcoming southern most wine region of Chile, this wine is dense with intensely pronounced tannins, full bodied wine with ripe black cherry and black berry notes, spicy bouquet emanating from the oak which is quite vivid and expressive. To be paired with mushrooms, truffle toppings, black whole and puy lentils, lasagne with quorn bolognese
Borgo Molino Prosecco, Italy 2016 (Coop and Tesco, £9.99) :
Made by three brothers this is a good quality vegan prosecco showing good typicity. Creamy mousse with delicate green apple, pear and lemon blossoms, accompanied by refreshing crisp acidity that perfectly balances with the ripe fruits. Vibrant finish and consistent all throughout. Fabulous for those yummy hummus dips, baked vegan samosas and vegan cheese.
Baron de Lay Rioja Reserva, Spain 2013 (Waitrose, Coop circa £13.00)
Run by a new generation of modern winemakers in Rioja who follow natural methods of viticulture and wine making, the wine is aged in oak for 24 months and then in a bottle to attain maturity. The wine has been unfiltered which may throw some sediments but that makes it vegan as no fining agent has been used. Black cherries on the aromas with black pepper, cinnamon and cardamom powder, there is a creamy vanilla essence to the wine with a woody smoke finish. Firm and ripe tannins and a commendable harmony of fruit and oak spice and power. Perfect to be paired with smoked and grilled eggplants, vegan sausages, patatas bravas.
We will keep adding to the list of wines in our future blogs so this is just a starter kit.
So, is there a way to know if a wine is vegan or not? Statutorily not required, unless the milk or egg residues are in excess of 0.25mg/l or sulphur dioxide levels are in excess of 10mg/l, which itself classifies wine as non-vegan!
However, more and more supermarkets and retailers are insisting all contents (irrespective of the amounts) be displayed and stated, which in this true free world is the right way going forward. We want to know what goes into we eat...so it is natural to want to know what goes into what we drink. But if nothing is mentioned, what do we do? Best is to simply insist on asking the store manager or the wine advisor of your shop. I believe the more consumers start asking, the more retailers and wholesalers will realise it is time to source wines made with vegan ingredients. Pressure and lobbying from enlightened and aware consumers always works wonders in changing production methods... after all the consumer is the king! And using vegan fining products does not make wine production overly expensive but a small responsible change can make a lasting difference in sustainability. Even if you are not vegan, it is still good to keep a track of the ingredients in your wine to show your seller that you do know your wine! Always helps to build your wine knowledge and confidence.
On another note.... just on the vegan topic, if you are looking at alternatives for honey which by the way is NOT vegan, why not try maple syrup! It has very low levels of glycemic index, additionally high levels of zinc, potassium (more than banana), calcium, manganese and most of all, does not harm the tree when extracted! We all can help in little ways to pave way for an ethically big and healthier future.