It is once again that time for #ThirstyThursday with The Mandy Connell show and boy, do we need this now more than ever. Variants, boosters, returning to school, Afghanistan…the world is coming at us like a fire hose on full blast so it is a good time to pause, reflect, spend time with our family, enjoy good meals, and of course, good wine. Mandy’s niece is visiting, so that is why we are going with vegan options for today’s segment.
Now, you may be asking…wait: how is wine NOT vegan? It is a common question my vegan friends often ask. The reason many wines are either not vegan at all or do not list themselves as vegan or organic stem from two different reasons. The latter reason (why a wine may not be listed as vegan but actually is) stems from the incredible expense it costs to get the coveted “organic,” “vegan,” “biodynamic,” or “natural” labels. The bureaucracies ruling the wine industry through out the world have strict requirements to meet, not only the local wine rules about varietals, agricultural areas, etc., in order to be classified and labeled, in this case, as vegan. Organic is an even harder label to earn and requires winemakers to jump through several hoops. I encourage you, if seeking these kinds of wines out is an important consideration, read the back of the label or check out the winemaker’s websites. You will often find them describing how their grapes are grown and how their wines are produced, many times, it is clear they adhere to the approach you may be interested in when it comes to your wine. More and more wine makers are seeking biodynamic, organic, sustainably farmed, and vegan approaches to their wines to minimize their environmental impact since the environment is such an important influence on the wines themselves.
But, why, you may be asking, is wine not naturally vegan? Well, that stems from the historic methods used to fine the wine. What does fining mean in terms of wine making?
Filtering vs Fining: Most of us coffee drinkers are pretty familiar with how a coffee filter allows all the delicious liquid gold to drip through to our carafes with minimal grounds making their way into the finished product. In the same vein, beginning around 40 to 50 years ago, winemakers began to filter their wines, especially those mass produced wine. This process makes sure the proteins, particulate matter, and other things that make their way into the grape must or wine are removed before either the aging or bottling processes begin. Filtration can also be used to polish or soften a wine if there are certain aspects, such as malic acid, that overpower the wine itself. However, many traditional wine makers choose not to use filtering for various reasons and choose to use the more subtle method of fining.
Fining has been used throughout wine making history to easily remove the proteins and sediment from wines as well as to minimize the cloudiness these suspended particles (yeast, bacteria, vegetal “gunk” from the crushing process to include skins, seeds, stems, leaves, and other things that make their way into the wine during the wine making process) create. It is the fining process where wines can make the leap into the non-vegan category. The agents traditionally used to fine wine (hence the term, “fine wine”) are often animal based.
In the case of white wine, traditionally, fish bone meal, milk proteins, or isinglass (from a sturgeon) are added to the wine, collecting all the proteins so that they sink to the bottom, allowing the “clean” or fined wine to be “racked” off in preparation for bottling.
For red wines, the fining process also helps soften harsher tannins and thus is used to help bring balance to the wine itself. Often in red wines, egg whites are used to grab the proteins and allow the winemaker to rack the fined wine off the proteins.
Now, there are plenty of traditional wine makers who eschew both filtering and fining because of the belief that it detracts from the natural beauty and flavor of the wine. These unfiltered and unfined wines often have that cloudy look, similar to a hefeweizen beer. However, some folks may find that the sediment left behind is unpleasant (we call them Scooby snacks in my circle) because of the grittiness but it may also cause side effects if one is sensitive to yeast.
There is a vegan option to produce fined wines and that is the use of bentonite clay. It has proven extremely effective at collecting those proteins and producing lovely vegan wines that compete with those wines that have used the more traditional animal based fining agents. We are tasting some of my favorite vegan wines and foods today as well as two local wine inspired beverages: a wine spritzer from Carboy Winery and a lemon based “wine” called Skier Pee from local business, Evergood Elixirs.
Our first wine is from Italian wine maker, Pizzolato, whose entire line is organic, sustainably farmed, and vegan. This Pinot Grigio is a bright and citrusy wine, light in body with bright acidity. It is a perfect pairing with our vegan Gazpacho from The French Kitchen.
Very affordable at approximately $12 a bottle, this is a great option for your end of summer events or upcoming holiday table.
Up next is our unoaked Chardonnay from Emiliana Organic Vineyards. Unoaked means this Chardonnay is going to highlight the fruit instead of the usual Napa Valley approach of accenting the vanilla notes off of the oak with the Granny Smith Apple notes of Chardonnay that has seen some or all secondary fermentation. This Chardonnay is going to remind you more of it citrusy cousin, Pinot Gris or Grigio, with hints of lime, pineapple, and a slight green herb note. This is my favorite approach to Chardonnay…minimal or no oak so that the tropical fruit notes shine through. This would be an amazing wine for grilled chicken or if you are already planning for your Thanksgiving table, to pair with turkey or ham, and certainly, all the side dishes.
Our first red wine is going to be a hat tip to winemaker and trail blazer, Becky Wasserman-Hone. She recently passed away, leaving many of us saddened at the loss of such a pivotal and influential winemaker. After moving to Burgundy in 1968, she settled in a small village outside of Beaune and in 1976, established her barrel brokering business. If you are not familiar with brokers or négociants in France, these are the folks who collect and distribute the wines you see on your shelf, with Kermit Lynch being probably one of the most recognizable. These are not necessarily the wine makers but folks who represent the wine makers or wine houses in terms of exporting their product. Madame Wasserman first began her career in Burgundy working in a cooperage, or barrel producer, and then turned her attention to seeking out and representing smaller winemakers who focused on the mouthfeel, texture, and layers of notes both on the pallet and nose. She is considered a pioneer for women in the wine industry as well as the key influencer to bringing and teaching about the beautiful wines of Burgundy to the pallets of Americans. I have yet to have a Wasserman wine I didn’t love because her attention to detail and discerning pallet and appreciation for wine is evident in every wine she represented. She will be missed. We’ll enjoy this young, but drinkable Burgundy with the classic pairing of a bloomy cheese (NOT vegan) called Brillat Savarin.
Back to our vegan selections today, we now turn toward Spain with this lovely little red blend of two famous Spanish varietals, Bobal and Tempranillo. We are pairing this affordable gem with our vegan Colorado chili sandwich from The French Kitchen. The strawberry and blackberry notes will balance nicely with the chili cashew spread and the 9-grain cracked wheat bread.
We will conclude our official wine selections with another affordable Spanish red blend, called Spartico, except this blend consists of a 50/50 blend of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. The tannic structure is more pronounced than our previous blend and would be a perfect wine to pair with a mushroom based meal, so braised mushrooms over polenta would be a perfect pairing for this rich and robust wine.
Finally, we will conclude with two fun additions to our tasting, both vegan and from local producers. Up first is Carboy’s new and fun product, Cold Vines Wine Spritzer. With four new flavors, this addition to Carboy’s already lovely wine selection provides those looking for something lighter, crisper, with the notes of fruit associated with the spritzer, with the perfect choice. I have selected my two favorites, Watermelon and Peach, for us to try today. These pair wonderfully with outdoor parties, tailgating before the game, post hikes, and campfires.
And our last vegan selection we will be trying will most likely not appeal to Mandy (she is not a lemon fan) but was suggested by a listener for Mandy and I to check out. Evergood Elixirs makes their “wine” (sorry, if there is one thing I am kinda snotty about, besides Lodi wines, is when fruits other than Vitis Vinifera are fermented and called wine…so, apologies up front!) from lemons, with one of their more popular selections being “Skier Pee.” This is clearly a company that likes to have a good time and the listener who suggested we try it enjoys going to the producer to bottle with friends. We will be trying a fun option for the hikers out there…their Adventure Flask of “Snow Bunny,” or Strawberry Lemon. I have never tried this, so we’ll be giving it a go live on air today, so be sure to tune in to see what we think. I actually do like lemonade, especially strawberry lemonade, so I am curious to see what it tastes like and am going in with an open mind. Just don’t expect me to call it wine. *grins*
Well that concludes our segment for August. I am now back to teaching wine and food pairing classes at The Wine Gallery and will be guiding an Oktoberfest inspired class on September 18th. Be sure to reserve your spot and let me know how you heard about it! I can’t wait to share with you the wine, beers, and cider (plus a load of food!) as we move into fall.
Until then, cheers and namaste.