‘Vegetarian wines?’ I hear you muse. ‘But wines are just made from grapes, right?’ Wrong. Unfortunately. Because I’m quite a big fan of wine. And it never occurred to me that it could contain animal products.
In fact, many wines contain gelatin (made from animal tissue), chitosan (made from shell-fish) and isinglass (derived from fish bladders). Yummy.
These are all used as processing aids, which fine the wine and help to remove solids. The good news is, alternatives such as bentonite (made from clay) can be used to make vegetarian-friendly products.
I decided to seek out some veggie wines and put them to the taste test. I started by heading to my local wine merchant, which stocks hundreds of wines from all over the world. But when I asked about their range of vegetarian and vegan wines, I was told there was one available. Only one. One range? No, one bottle. And, that particular bottle was priced at £20, which I’m sure you’ll agree, is slightly more than you’d be looking to spend on your regular shopping trip.
So I decided to see what my nearest supermarket had to offer. It turns out Co-op is actually pretty geared up for vegetarians, as all of their own-brand wines are clearly labeled and far more explicit than anyone else’s.The Vegan Society even gave Co-op’s vegan wine range their Best Drink award in 2006.
Unless the bottle displays the Vegetarian Society’s logo on the label, it’s pretty tricky to know which wines are veggie and which are not. Wine producers are not obliged to state which fining agents they use, and most leave you guessing.
I selected three reds and put them to the test…
1. Argentine Malbec, San Juan, 2010, £4.99
This was a pleasant, fruity wine, with hints of plum, raspberry and blackberry. It was smooth and easy to drink, with a spicy after-taste of vanilla. It would go well with traditional dishes, such as pies, savoury tarts and potato-based dishes.
2. Fairtrade Cinsault Shiraz, South Africa, 2011, £4.99
This vibrant, ruby-coloured wine was warm and spicy with traces of vanilla and cumin, infused with berry overtones. It was an easy drinking and medium-bodied wine and would go well with pizza and pasta dishes. Definitely my favourite of the three.
3. Long Slim Chile, Valle Central, £3.99
This was my least favourite of the selection. It had less complexity of taste than the other two and seemed thin in comparison. Although, I can see that it could go well with strong flavours, such as blue cheeses.
So fear not, there are plenty of good vegetarian wines out there, you just have to look carefully.