I have considered myself a vegan now for over 3 years and in that time, it’s been a bit of a minefield when it comes to working out what I can eat and drink and what I can’t. I am still shocked when I find out certain products, which I would have assumed are vegan, in fact are not.
Choice, variety and labelling of vegan-friendly products has definitely improved but there are still some grey areas and wine is one of those which can be difficult to get your head round – after all, how can a product made from grapes, not be vegan?
With the festive period on the horizon, I wanted to get to the bottom of this quandary so chatted to John Critchley, Commercial Director of Manchester-based importer Morgenrot, who specialise in vegan wines, to find out more.
So John, what makes a wine vegan and why aren’t all wines vegan?
In simple terms, vegan wines are wines made without the use of animal or meat products. How are animal products used in wine I hear you ask? Well, many winemakers will use animal-derived products to act as a filter to get rid of particles that may affect the flavour or appearance of wine.
What animal products are used in non-vegan wines?
It always sounds pretty disgusting and so far removed from how you would envisage a natural product like wine being made but all types of animal derived products are used for filtering such as boiled fish bladders (isinglass), animal bones, egg whites, milk protein or even shellfish fibres. This doesn’t mean the final wine contains these filtering agents as they are filtered out but animal products are used in the process.
What do vegan wines use instead and does this effect the quality?
It’s really not that difficult anymore as there are now plenty of different mineral and plant-based ingredients which can be used as fining or filtering agents. Products such as bentonite clay, pea protein, plant casein and silica gel are just a few products which are increasingly being used to produce vegan wines of outstanding quality. When sourcing new wine producers, we always now request that wines are vegan. If they are not, we want to know why and ask them to change.
How many of your wines are now vegan?
We’ve been working closely with our wine producers over the last 5 years to help those which were not vegan, make the switch. The UK’s vegan scene is a lot more mature than other countries so we’re proud to have been leading this drive for vegan wines. We’re delighted to say that 95% of our portfolio of over 400 wines are now vegan and demand continues to grow.
How can consumers find out if the wines they are drinking are vegan?
While vegan wine ranges have definitely been on the increase, I believe more can be done to educate consumers on them and make it easier for them to be found. As there is no ‘official’ vegan stamp for wine labelling we recommend that our suppliers get the V-Label certification, which is an internationally recognised, registered symbol for labelling vegan and vegetarian products. It’s a simple and reliable guide that can help winemakers promote transparency and clarity. Our wines are predominantly sold in restaurants, which makes it a bit easier as waiters and bar staff can help with recommendations but when in retail or shopping online, it’s vital that retailers make it easy for customers to discover what’s vegan and what’s not.
And to finish, what three vegan wines would you recommend for the festive period?
With your Italian roots, I have selected three beautiful Italian vegan wines for you to test ahead of Christmas – a white, a rose and a red but if any of your followers want more information on our vegan wines from around the world, get it in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
The White – Gavi Poderi Della Collinetta
The Sarotto family trace their history back to the end of the 18th century and from the 1800’s began making wine from their own vineyards. Poderi della Collinetta are wines made with the great passion of a famous winemaker, Roberto Sarotto. One of Italy’s most revered and fashionable white wines, this Gavi offers a bouquet of floral overtones and captivating hints of pineapple, apricot and peach. On the palate it is pleasingly fresh with marked apple characteristics.
The Rosé – Bardolino Chiaretto
From Veneto, Casa Vinicola Bennati is an old established house, founded in 1920 by Annibale Bennati, in the area of Cazzano di Tramigna, just a few kilometres from Soave. Annibale was the son of the famous Antonio, or ‘Toni Recioto’ as he was called in honour of the raisin wine of that name. This Chiaretto is a dry and crisp rosé wine made from red wine grapes using white winemaking practices. By limiting the juice’s exposure to the grapes’ skins, where the pigment is found, the colour of Chiaretto stays pale. A light-medium bodied wine that’s cherry-red rosé in colour. Flavours and aromas of peach and blossom with a crisp, dry finish.
The Red – Iorio Aglianico del Sannio
Cantine Iorio is proud of guarding, through its everyday work, the traditions of its region. It is situated in Torrecuso, a hilly district located in the heart of the Sannio and beside the Taburno Regional Park. Aglianico is a specialty grape of Campania, where it prefers the volcanic soils. It has a powerful, intense character and is regarded as one of Italy’s finest varietals. A wine of intense fragrance with red fruits and spices making a deep, rich ‘porty’ character with a soft finish of elegant tannins.
When it comes to pairing a red wine like theIorio Aglianico del Sannio with a food dish, I’ve gone for an unctuous Pappardelle Mushroom Ragu. This recipe is definitely one of my favourite comfort food recipes. It’s the ideal dish to have on a cold night after a long day at work and alongside a glass of wine, it will make your heart, belly and soul sing with joy. What I love the most is that although it’s super filling and scrumptious it’s made with wholesome, good-for-you ingredients. This rich and creamy ragu, although ideal with pasta is also great with some brown rice or quinoa or with simply some crunchy bread. This recipe will make a large pot of ragu which will last in an air tight container in the fridge for 4-5 days or you can also freeze it.
Pappardelle Mushroom Ragu
2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 medium-sized carrots, finely chopped
280 gr of chestnut mushrooms- minced into a food processor
150ml of Iorio Aglianico del Sannio red wine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of cooked brown lentils
1 tin of chopped tomatoes or Italian passata
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves + extra for sprinkling
1/4teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon of dry basil
1 teaspoon of miso paste (optional but adds a depth of flavour)
Pasta of your choice – I have used pappardelle
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and carrots. Cook for about 6-8 minutes, until the onion starts to turn translucent.
- Add the crushed garlic and cook for another minute, stirring from time to time to prevent from burning.
- Add the mushrooms to the pan and keep on cooking for around 5 minutes.
- Add the lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and all the herbs to the pan. Stir the mixture well, add the red wine and bring it to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer and cover. Cook for 30 to 35 minutes on a very gentle heat. If the sauce becomes too thick add a splash of water.
- When the sauce is 15 minutes from being done, heat a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions. Drain the pasta and add a splash of olive oil to prevent from sticking.
- Divide the pasta into bowls and top with the ragu sauce. Serve the pasta with some extra fresh thyme and cracked black pepper.