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Autumn 2003 - Act•ionLine

by Starre Vartan | Autumn 2003

Vino for Vegans

There’s a secret hiding in all those reports about the health benefits of wine-drinking. While not for everybody, studies have shown that moderate (1-2 glasses a day) wine consumption can be beneficial to health by lowering the risk of skin cancer, stroke, and heart attack, improving good cholesterol, and even preventing osteoporosis. Though these benefits have also been shown to occur with consumption of other foods and drinks, a glass of wine with the evening meal is a traditional part of many diets around the world. The secret that few people know is that most wines are not vegan and plenty are not even vegetarian.

What could be in wine that would make it so antithetical to vegan or vegetarian lifestyles? After all, it’s just crushed grapes, isn’t it? Unfortunately, like most food products, wine is processed, and part of the chain of events that eventually gets it to your table includes fining, the process by which wine is filtered, to clear it of cloud-causing sediments. This includes using isinglass from fish in (mostly German) white wines and gelatin in red wines, casein (a milk protein), to soften the taste, and egg whites to brighten red wines. Even animal blood has been used (and still is, though not commonly) in some Mediterranean countries, though it is outlawed in the United States and France.

Kosher wines won’t contain casein or animal blood, so they are vegetarian, but not necessarily vegan. There are a few different organizations that certify wine and other food products as kosher, and while some eschew egg whites, others will certify a wine as kosher as long as all of the egg whites were removed from the final product.

However, there is more than one way to ‘fine the wine.’ Bentonite, a natural, inert clay powder, can be used to affect the same process. And some very patient vintners even let the wine’s sediments settle out naturally. The ingredient list of a wine won’t include kind of clarifier is used, because it’s removed from the final product. There are also human-made fining agents, but these are not allowed in organic wines, and oftentimes the same vineyards that care about avoiding animal products in their wine also care about the environmental impact of their grape farming and go organic. After all, as Herman Weimer, a winegrower from upstate New York says, “When you go organic, the songbirds and ladybugs return to the vineyard.” However, certainly not all organic wines are vegan, and farming practices like rodent control vary from vineyard to vineyard.

What’s an animal-loving wine drinker to do? Gladly, there are plenty of vegan and organic wine varieties out there. One clue that a wine may be vegan is if hasn’t been fined. You might be able to see some sediment floating around in the wine or on the label it might say that it’s “unfiltered” or “unfined.” However, as Donna Binder, co-owner and wine buyer of Counter vegan restaurant reports, “Unfiltered doesn’t necessarily mean unfined.” She adds, “Vegan wine is an emerging market, but there is no third-party certification like with organic products. It’s complicated, since sometimes one vintage from a winery will be fined and the next won’t be. The only way to really know is to contact the winery yourself,” which is what she does when purchasing wines for the restaurant. You can call the vineyard, check the Internet, or ask your local wine seller to do some research for you. Since most wine stores’ selections are limited by available space, they are usually happy to special-order requests, and perhaps you can encourage them to learn about this new wine market.

Some wine companies (especially European-based vineyards), mark their wines vegetarian (V) or vegan (VG) on the label, but not all wineries use this kind of voluntary classification. And there are a number of wineries cropping up that offer only vegan wines, like Guy Brossard, who makes a fresh and fruity white Muscadet, and Movia, who makes a Cabernet, a Pinot Noir, and a varietal blend of red grapes called Veliko Rosso and a white blend of three Pinots, named Turno.

And you don’t have to miss your after-dinner drink or wedding toast either. There are vegan sparkling wines, like the Method Champenoise by Guy Brossard, and ports, like the Counter’s house port, Ribera Del Duero.

With just a little research, you’ll be able to turn up a new favorite wine, port or sparkling wine that will be healthy for you, the planet and the animals.

Starre Vartan

Act•ionLine Autumn 2003

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