“On went my hat of pretension as I cleaned my palate with water, alas no bread or crackers to ensure I started fresh with neutral flavours,” writes wine columnist RICHARD CALVER
A GOOD friend has become a vegan. Vegans don’t use animal products. There is an underpinning philosophy that rejects animals as commodities, a position with which I have a great deal of sympathy.
Despite that stance, I have not yet subjected my friend to the full complement of vegan jokes. My family-friendly favourite though:
Why did the tofu cross the road?
To prove he wasn’t chicken.
Whilst it is common for those who adhere to veganism to closely examine foods for animal products, it is not usual for the same levels of scrutiny to be applied to wine.
But some wines are likely to be rejected by vegans because they contain egg or milk products. Egg whites are regularly used in the production of wine.
After wine has finished fermenting, it contains particles. These particles are grape pulp as well as skins and stems, especially where the grapes are pressed a second time. That is why “first press” wines command a premium: they have less of the sometimes bitter component of the residue of stems, for example.
Other particles include dead yeast cells and tannin particles. Now gravity would ultimately mean that the particles fell to the bottom of the wine vat and you would have the ability to siphon them away. But to accelerate that process, winemakers “fine” the wine. That is not an additional tax but the process of clarifying the wine.
The fining agent, usually albumen but sometimes bentonite clay or milk, is poured on to the surface of the wine. As the fining agent sinks to the bottom of the vat, it carries with it those pesky particles making the wine clearer and less tannic. The process therefore makes the wine taste softer, more palatable.
I was therefore quite taken aback when my vegan friend arrived for a vegetarian dinner I had dutifully cooked with a bottle of Lindeman’s Bin 65 Chardonnay 2016. I knew this was an under-$10 wine but that was not my reason for surprise as it is quite quaffable albeit inoffensive. No, it was because there on the back of the label (and I read wine labels obsessively) was a note that said: “Produced with the aid of egg and milk products and traces may remain”.
I didn’t draw attention to this fact but instead offered a chardonnay that I thought would go well with the baked aubergine and which I had placed in the fridge.
Obviously both of us thought chardonnay an appropriate variety to go with the veggie meal. The Byron & Harold Chapter and Verse Chardonnay 2015 ($28) is from WA and has a lovely melon, oaky flavour. But armed with the knowledge that the Lindemans had contained traces of animal products, I scrutinised the label on the WA wine of choice. Argh: there on the back of the wine label was the statement: “Traditional fining agents used (milk)”.
Should I disclose this to my friend and go hunting for another appropriate but regrettably unchilled wine? An ethical dilemma solved by my preference and his ignorance: I poured the wine.
“Where ignorance is bliss tis folly to be wise.” – Thomas Gray