How can wine not be vegan?

I have actually lost count of just how many times I have been asked. So a very brief introduction into how a wine gains its vegan status and certification.

Starting off with the obvious; it’s nothing to do with the grapes themselves or any additives. It’s all to do with egg white, fish swim bladders, milk protein, something to do with jelly babies, and Ox Blood up until the late 1990’s.

All wine starts off as Vegan. When wine is made it is naturally cloudy. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it, just cloudy. In fact, bottles claiming to be ‘natural wine’ are just wines in their natural state.

So wine contains ‘bits’. Always did do, no harm ever came of them, however the rich decided they preferred wine to be as clear as possible. This meant that wine had to be stored much longer so these particles would settle into the bottle of the bottle, inside the punt. Poor people had to have wines of less clarity.

Then came the bright idea of filtering the wine to take the bits out. This is called ‘fining’, creating ‘fine’ wine. An industry was born.

To make wine brighter the wine was passed through many products including: Gelatine, produced from animal collagen (in jelly babies too). Other fining agents are: Isinglass, made of collagen from the swim bladders of fish; Casein, a milk protein; Skimmed milk, Egg White; albumen; even Chitosan; crushed powered crustacean exoskeletons.

There are fining agents that are far more Vegan friendly including: Bentonite; a very fine clay derived from volcanic ash, Carbon too, but it is a bit dangerous and there is also Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone, a synthetic polymer.

Research and new advances are being made using bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, plant proteins and silica gel amongst others.

 

One other thing to be aware of is that as the fining agent is not an additive it doesn’t have to be listed on the ingredients!

So a wine with VEGAN on the label will have had to have paid for all its processes to be assessed and verified, however some wines are Vegan, but aren’t allowed to put that on the label and some producers don’t want to go to all the rigmarole of certification, but that’s another beginners guide.

The problem with looking for Vegan labels.

There are many organisations that are all in existence to put a certification of Vegan on a product that aligns itself to that organisations regulations. There is no one totally agreed version of what makes a product Vegan. There is a three-point minimum standard from the EU, which states, in precis: the product does not contain any ingredients of animal origin, or any processing aids of animal  origin. Point two refers to involuntary cross contamination, this isn’t a cause for negating Vegan status and, thirdly, the business that makes the product does not commission vivisection or testing on any animal.

Cross contamination will lead to the possibility of ‘trace’ of animal origin, however ‘trace’ cannot be considered an ingredient! Companies that commission animal experiments that produce plant based products cannot have Vegan placed on that product.

So there is a definition, however, sometimes a winery successfully fulfills  all the above and still can’t put Vegan on the product.

Italian wine producers work hard to attain for their wine the D.O.C.G. status. One of the rules when achieving this status for your wine is that no other classification can go onto the label! So no matter how closely a producer adheres themselves to the criteria, they aren’t allowed to put anything else on the label.

But, they will all have access to sharing their Vegan credentials with a certificate of Vegan licence, which look like this. So you may be drinking a vegan Prosecco or vegan Soave without even knowing it!

A perfect vegan pairing for your vegan Prosecco

Banana Blossom, battered and deep fried served with chips, is just what your Vegan Prosecco is screaming out for.

Banana blossom is the purple flower that grows at the bottom of the bunch of bananas. Most Asian food stores will stock them in tins. What makes them so great is that they have a particular flaky texture which is very reminiscent in the mouth to fish!

Prosecco, as a sparkling white wine is the perfect pairing [in the non-vegan world] for fish and chips! This is a surprise to many when they initially hear it, but as F&C are deep fried and in batter the mouth tends to get an oily coating as the food is eaten. The freshness of the high acidity and bubbles clear out the mouth between mouthfuls leaving the mouth clean and fresh ready for the next bite.

So substitute the fish for banana blossom and fry away, chilled Prosecco and banana blossom and chips, the perfect Vegan chippy tea!

Soave, a vegan drinkers guide to region, wine and pairing for Veganuary 2021

In the North-West of Italy is the wine producing region of Veneto. In the west of the region is the Province of Verona, home of those two gentlemen, and 23 kilometres east is the commune of Soave which dates back to Roman times. A settlement with a hill and a castle dating back to the 900’s. Oh, and a wine. A fantastic wine called Soave. Truly one of Italy’s greatest and best known white wines.

If you don’t think you’ve ever heard of it then you are probably either quite young or new to wine drinking, or both. In the 1970s there was more Soave being drunk in the UK than Chianti, then fashions changed. However, Soave deserves being re-discovered.

Well, what is so good about it? Firstly, it comes from a very long established area and the wines are well made and elegant. Everybody knows what they are doing, and secondly it goes really well as a partner for food. Superbly food-friendly.

You’ll find flavours of lemons and almonds, with a sharp crispy edge, but due to the volcanic and limestone soils you’ll find a spice and bite in there too. Which is great for food pairings.

One great and easy vegan pairing is a cold Italian Market Place Salad: Ditalini pasta; fresh basil, oregano, tomato, fresh sliced garlic, black olives, fresh mozzarella, sliced red peppers, topped with orange zest.  You can easily source vegan mozzarella, or even make your own, but whichever this meal pairs so well with a chilled crisp Soave, you’ll be hooked.

If you want to be a bit more Bake-Off this month, it also pairs well with a vegan courgette bread dipped into olive oil and your own choice of Dukkah. It also accompanies lentil dishes and pesto too.

Jupiter and Saturn’s great conjunction and vegan wine consumption…….

 

Sangiovese is a very widespread grape grown across central Italy, it is most widespread in Tuscany. It is probably mostly drunk as a blend in Chianti. Howev, it has other lives, and other names, but only Sangiovese links it back to Jupiter!

Returning to Jupiter, the Romans held a close divine and praiseworthy relationship between wine and Jupiter, especially in his guise as Lightening thrower, therefore in charge of the weather in general. Grapes are susceptible to the weather and the Romans held that by making sacrifice to Jupiter the grapes had a better chance of surviving.

Pre-harvest there was a festival asking for clement weather. The high priest of Jupiter cut the first harvest gathering. There was another festival at the end of harvest where the wines were blended and finally the new wine was presented to Jupiter in Spring. So having a grape named after him seems very reasonable and respectful.

To astrologers these two planets coming together means something, a time of change is coming. For the last 200 years these two planets have crossed over in Earth signs, for the next 200 years it will happen in air signs. Curiously enough Europe’s last major dalliance with Black Death came in an air period…..

Astrology and wine may seem a rather spurious link, but let me introduce you to the grape variety Sangiovese. It is that old that it has a name stretching back to Latin, where it translates to us and ‘the blood of Jove’, and Jove is the old name form for the god Jupiter, who now is a planet, and recently ‘undertook’ Saturn.

Sangiovese is very adaptable as a grape variety and everyone can usually find something they’ll enjoy. It also has a great reputation for producing red wines and being blended into red wines that work particularly well with food, especially tomato based pasta dishes. If you are experimenting with Veganuary try pairing this wine with lots of butter or olive oils as the fats will help cut into the wines tannins. If you are going to roast veggies then use less sweetening on them and then the wine will taste fruitier. In a sweeping generalisation, as a very rough guide, Sangiovese produces wines that are red, fruity, dry, with black cherries and raspberries and a bit spicy.

Except this one.....

A beginner guide to Italian wine classification and the oddities of it too.

The really simple part is that wine made in Italy is graded into four classifications. These were passed into law in 1992 and somewhat mirror EU regulations, but defiantly stick to their ‘Italianness’.

As with any classification or award granted there are rules and regulations to which the producers and the wine must adhere and pass. These are rules; and rules are rules,rules must always be adhered to, always; but, not always, sometimes.

Propping up the whole pyramid, the grass roots of the wine divisions, if you will, is: Vino da Tavola; V.D.T.; table wine. It’ll be a perfectly drinkable table wine, grape varieties may not be named, there will be no vintage date and it will, in the main be fairly local to where you are.

Then comes the start of the ‘serious wines’. These have to adhere to rules to get their classification.

Indicazione Geografica Tipica. I.G.T. There are about 120 regions, and to get these three letters on your bottles label you; have to identify the grapes you are using to make the wine, you have to be growing and producing in a specific region, you have to name the year the vine was made, call the vintage.  We will come back to I.G.T. shortly!

Moving higher up the classification system you will find: Denominazione Di Origine Controllata. To acquire these letters, D.O.C. upon your label there are even more rules to follow. Firstly you have to register with the Government to be inspected and judged to be sticking to the rules, and you have to be based wholly within one of the 300[ish] regions that are registered. Then there are rules relating to; which grapes you can use, how they can be planted, how long the wine must be kept in barrels before release, minimum alcohol content amongst others. These rules are in place to assure you the consumer that this wine is well made and overseen!

Then, top of the pile is D.O.C.G. Denominazione Di Origine Controllata E Garantita. In everyday English, all of the above, plus a few more regulations and this time guaranteed by a panel of expert judges before the wine is bottled. You need to be in a region, stick to more stringent growing and maturing rules, but if you do and the wine is so adjudged you can seal the top of your bottle with a D.O.C.G. certificate strip. This classification is a refinement of D.O.C. rules and represents very well made wine indeed. It could even be the best there is.

Which brings us back to I.G.T. Specifically it brings us back to a region of Italy called Toscana, Tuscany. Tuscany is possibly most famous for the Art it has bequeathed the world. However, it has also been famous for the amount of artists best known for breaking the accepted rules of the art world and setting up new schools of art across the centuries. The rise of the 19th Century of Tuscan art rebels, including; Lega, Fattori and Boldini et al gave rise to the legend “Rebels are born not made.”

In 1968 a born rebel did something to the wine that caused a stir. He, Mario Incisa della Rocchetta, had planted, in 1944 some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on his estate. He didn’t sell it, it was just his, for him. Therefore, it didn’t matter that the wine didn’t follow the rules. This was a grape variety that wasn’t in the rule book. It ‘belonged in Bordeaux, France not Tuscany. So in 1968 he put some aside to bring to the market in 1971 and the ‘Super Tuscan’ wine was born.

Because it didn’t fit the rules to be classified D.O.C. it had to be classified as ‘just table wine’. This didn’t seem very fair or right, so the I.G.T classification was introduced so that good wines, but made using a blend of non-regional grape varieties could be classified as better than table wine, but not following the rules set out for D.O.C./D.O.C.G.

So hereby hangs the oddity. Is D.O.C.G. always the top of the pile? Not always. Keep your eyes peeled for Toscana  I.C.T. Great wine made by the rebels, and vegan now too.

IS THERE ANY SEPARATION BETWEEN "VEGAN" AND "PLANT-BASED"?

Veganuary. If you feel like you might ‘have a go’, then best you know what it is you will actually have to do. How many changes will you have to make and what are they?

Vegan and plant-based: they don't mean the same thing. Vegan-friendly might not actually mean vegan. All vegan products are plant-based but not all plant-based products are also vegan. While the term plant-based indicates the mere absence of ingredients of animal origin in the product, the concept of "vegan" goes further.

On the issue of the legal definition of "vegan product" there is still legislative incompleteness. So there isn’t yet an official definition, similar to organic wine, but the EU has a common standard but not as law yet. This means, at the moment, brands and certifications related to vegan represent a significant attraction for producers, even for those who are not properly employed in the plant-based sector.

Consumers should have the right to be informed clearly so that they can make choices in line with their lifestyle and their food preferences. There is the opportunity to exploit this legislative vacuum and therefore muddy the waters for vegans themselves and others trying to adhere.

If, beyond doubt, you are convinced that a product is 100% plant-based, if you know it does not contain components of animal origin either the ingredients, additives or adjuvants [common in vaccines] can you be so certain it is definable vegan?

Brussels has come up with an agreed set of principles which set the minimum standard for Vegan products and there is a considerable amount of ethics involved.

There are three essential minimum standards for a food to be certified as Vegan. It will change your shopping habits if you fully envelop the concept, and without doubt create an altered planet.

Firstly, food must not contain ingredients of animal origin. Foods suitable for vegans do not contain any ingredients of animal origin (including food additives, carriers, flavourings, enzymes) nor any processing aids of animal origin that have been added or used during the manufacturing process, preparation, treatment or placing on the market of foods.

Secondly, during manufacturing, preparation, treatment or placing on the market, involuntary cross contamination with products that do not comply with the requirements of the above guidelines can be admitted and is compatible with the vegan labelling of the product. The essential word here is involuntary. Manufacturing seldom takes place in a vacuum.

Finally, the producer under whose name or business name the food is marketed, or the importer, must neither conduct nor commission vivisection or testing on any animal of the food, nor of the ingredients or processing aids used. If the operator ceases such practices, their foods may then be eligible for consideration. The claim that a food is 'suitable for vegans' implies that, as far as possible and practicable, animals have not been used at any stage of the preparation of that food.

 

So you can see how the first regulation puts some of the fining agents of the wine industry on the outside of the ‘suitable for vegans’.  However, In the production of wines [also oil, flours, fruit juices, jams and other plant-based products] there may be a remote possibility that insects or fragments of animals may come into contact during production: it is almost inevitable you would find animal DNA in wine. These are contaminations, but it certainly cannot be said that there are evident traces of animal products, because it is a mere possibility. The "trace" is not an ingredient.

 

So if you are going to ‘do’ Veganuary you need to look into the companies you are buying from and the lines of production too.

Just because it is plant based doesn’t mean it is vegan.

125,000 business opportunities

 

According to the UK newspaper The Guardian [6-1-21] the number of people signing up to Veganuary 2021 is 500,000 of which 125,000 are in the U.K.

125,000 people are going to give Veganism a go for the month. Fantastic. Imagine if your business could attract that many people ready to sample your business for a month. How many are likely to keep it going. Well in 2015 only 10,000 signed up and that’s worldwide, now 125,000 just in the U.K.

It is about more than just not eating meat, there is a three step protocol for products to be certified vegan, which means that consumers will be looking for companies that fit those choices they make.

How far away is your business from attracting your share of those 125,000? For more information of Vegan certification and vegan wines and food pairings discover www.thesommelier.uk or follow twitter @thesommelieruk. Use your lockdown wisely and be prepared for these new, motivated consumers.

Italian Wine and Tuscan Rebels

Across the year’s Italian wine regulations have striven to make wine choices easy for consumers. There are four ‘levels’ rising up in quality and regulatory supervision.  If only it was that simple!

It was meant to be that simple, it is that simple, except for Tuscany, that area known for rebellion.

Base of the pyramid Vino da Tavola; V.D.T.; table wine. It’ll be a perfectly drinkable table wine, grape varieties may not be named, there will be no vintage date and it will, in the main be fairly local to where you are. Doesn’t often get exported away from its locality but is the base of many holiday wine memories.

Building on from here is Indicazione Geografica Tipica. I.G.T. to get these three letters on your bottles you; have to identify the grapes you are using, have to be growing and producing in a specific region and have to call the vintage. 

Then come the two top layers: Denominazione Di Origine Controllata. & Denominazione Di Origine Controllata E Garantita D.O.C. & D.O.C.G.  To acquire these letters, there are even more rules to follow, plus a few more regulations and this time guaranteed by a panel of expert judges before the wine is bottled. You might just occasionally see a paper strip around the top of the bottle of Italian wine. That’s the thing we are talking about.

Easy for consumers to choose ‘better’ wines.

Except!

Tuscany. Tuscany has its own I.G.T. issue. Tuscan I.G.T. wines can on occasion be more expensive that the D.O.C & D.O.C.G. wines from the same region. These can be often referred to as SUPER TUSCANS.

These wine makers do not follow the rules of the region. These wine makers experiment with different grapes, often grapes more known from French wine. These wine makers can produce beautiful wines that break all the rules and therefore can only be classed as I.G.T.

It’s a bit like Formula 1 restricting faster, more powerful cars racing in F1, but still calling itself Formula 1. Are they the pinnacle of the racing car genre? Rules are rules and if you don’t follow them, you need your own club! That’s the Super Tuscan dilemma and that is about as simple an explanation as I give.

Toscana I.G.T. a whole different ball game.