Vegan wines are A Thing these days. Most supermarkets list vegan wines on their websites, and the Co‑op recently announced it was aiming to increase its offering to 100 wines by the end of the year (Majestic plans to follow suit). It might come as a bit of a surprise that wine wouldn’t be vegan, but animal-derived products such as gelatine and isinglass (made from fish bladders) are routinely used for fining, or clarifying (I don’t fancy the sound of that much, either). And while vegetarians could drink wine fined with casein (milk protein) and egg whites instead, vegans obviously can’t.
The good news is that a significant number of wines already fall into the vegan category, particularly the own-label ranges. The Co-op has been commendably open about listing ingredients on its own wines, 55% of which are now suitable for vegans, including the rather delicious Irresistible Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir. It’s also encouraging suppliers such as Piper-Heidsieck, which makes its bestselling Les Pionniers champagne, to take the vegan route, too. “Many suppliers were genuinely surprised that customers minded,” says beer, wines and spirits manager Simon Cairns. “They said no one had expressed interest before. We’ve set up a forum for winemakers to exchange experiences with new fining technologies such as pea protein.”
The issue obviously doesn’t arise with wines that are unfined, which a winemaker might do to achieve more intense flavour and texture – notably with full-bodied reds. You could, for example, almost chew Château Maris Les Vieilles Vignes Minervois, which is made from organic old syrah vines. But you can’t automatically assume that biodynamic wines are vegan, especially if they use preparation 500 (it’s made from decomposed cow dung buried in a cow horn); or that they are in every respect natural. In other words, it’s complicated.
If you are vegan, you might be drawn to minimal-intervention wines with lower, if any, levels of sulphur. Earth’s Essence, which is made in South Africa and stocked by Aldi, achieves that by infusing its wines with an extract of rooibos and honey bush, which has naturally high levels of antioxidants. Others, such as the unusual Envinate Taganan Blanco, from Tenerife, available from the splendidly quirky Vin Cognito, are fermented with wild yeasts that allow the terroir to shine through. Yes, it’s expensive, but it is grown on volcanic soils, about which Vin Cognito are great enthusiasts, and it’s marvellously pure and expressive.
Château Maris Les Vieilles Vignes Minervois 2015 £10.99 Ocado, 14.5%
A dense, powerful Languedoc red – perfect for rich aubergine dishes.
Earth’s Essence Shiraz 2017 £6.99 Aldi, 14%
Perhaps less natural-tasting than the name might suggest, but appealingly soft and lush
Irresistible Casablanca Valley Pinot Noir 2016 £7.99 Co-op, 14%
Delectably fruity pinot at an incredibly good price
Envinate Taganan Blanco 2016 £19.50 Vin Cognito, £20 The Laughing Heart, 12.5%,
Pure, thrilling volcanic white. Ideal for raw veg and salads