Viva Las Vegan: Understanding Vegetarian Wine

For a casual drinker, the general understanding is that wine is vegetarian, since it is composed of processed grapes. But this isn’t exactly true. Not all vinos are considered vegetarian – not because of its primary ingredients, but due to its clarifying process called fining. In fining, vintners use non-vegetarian products, like isinglass (fish bladder) and casein (milk protein), to make the liquid clear and free from floating particles.

Vegetarian and vegan wines are actually more uncommon than their non-vegetarian counterparts. We, at Singapore Wine Vault, are here to shed light on what vegetarian wines are, the difference between them and other wines, and the tasting notes for several known vegetarian vinos.

What is Vegetarian Wine?

SGWV-Blog-Vegetarian-Body-1 (1)Vegetarian WineVegetarian wines do not contain or use animal byproducts during their fining process. Instead, mineral-based agents are used, namely bentonite (clay), kiesulguhr (rock), silica gel, and diatomaceous earth. Wineries that serve fast-moving tipple use sterile filters for quicker clarification. A lot of winemakers also opt to forgo the filtration and fining processes to satisfy the standards of vegetarian purists.

Unfiltered wine may take longer to produce, but it holds a key advantage over its filtered and refined cousins. The use of fining agents can partially dilute wine’s flavor and complexity, as believed by some vintners. In skipping filtration, wine’s taste is unadulterated and preserved, satiating the palates of wine enthusiasts who prefer more pronounced flavors.

Are Organic Wines Vegetarian?

Not all the organic wines found in an esteemed wine storage facility are considered vegetarian. In fact, the term “organic” refers to the use of organically grown varietals, regardless of the additives used in preparing the wine. Non-vegetarian additives like animal enzymes and egg whites are typically used to produce organic wine. This is why vegans need to do some research prior to purchasing an organic vintage.

Processed through healthier means of vine husbandry, vegetarian organic wines may pose fewer health risks than traditional vinos. Chemical herbicides and pesticides are not used in growing organic varietals, thus eliminating the hazard of chemical poisoning. However, drinking non-organic wine is safe given the safe procedures practiced by wineries and the health standards around the world. The risks lie more on those working in the vineyards.

Are Biodynamic Wines Vegetarian?

Biodynamic wines are interesting, considering its viticulture approach is organic and rather than esoteric . The winemaking process is rather unique and follows a biodynamic calendar that is based on the planet’s four elements. Each of the stages correlate to a particular element, namely the Fruit Stage (Wind), Root Stage (Earth), Leaf Stage (Water), and Flower Stage (Fire). Following the tenets of biodynamics, the wine contains natural ingredients and forgo the use of chemicals in winemaking. However, biodynamic wines are not vegetarian.

Part of the biodynamic winemaking process is a phase called composting, which makes use of animal horns in preparing fertilizer for the vines. Compost is stuffed in the horns and then distributed throughout the vineyard. No conclusive evidence has been found on horn composting’s true effects on gardening, but farmers believe that it makes the varietals hardier.

Even if a biodynamic vintage is unrefined and unfiltered, purists do not consider it vegetarian given the way the varietals were grown.

The Hunt for Vegetarian Wine

More and more vegetarian vintages are appearing on wine cellars worldwide, with the pure, unadulterated flavors of the wine slowly gaining a bigger following. However, the search for true vegetarian wine remains a challenge for most people.

Concerned winemakers and purveyors of the wine lifestyle have made the hunt easier by putting up websites that are dedicated to or at least showcase vegetarian wine. Websites like VeggieWines and Barnivore list down the notable vegetarian vintages you can purchase. Some makers of organic wine also have product lines dedicated to vegetarians and vegans.

When visiting a supermarket or a wine store, check the labels of the vinos. Finding the terms “vegan-friendly,” “unfined,” “unfiltered,” and “micron filtered only” mean that the bottle is indeed vegetarian. Experienced sommeliers are also remarkable sources.

Notable Vegetarian Vintages

SGWV-Blog-Vegetarian-Body-2 (1)

Vegetarian WinesA good number of vintners have made a name out of producing fine vegetarian vintages. Winemakers such as Bonny Doon Vineyards, Stellar Organics, Girasole Vineyards, and Kawarau Estate have produced go-to vinos for vegetarians, and have gained favorable attention from both critics and wine publications. Even non-vegetarians appreciate the complexity and the harmonious blend of aroma and notes of expertly made wine .

So, in your next trip to the supermarket or wine store, you can look for these liquid assets:

Reds

2013 Grisole Vineyards Pinot Noir – This oaked treasure carries a refreshing cherry and rose aroma that melds with its notes of raspberries and summer strawberries. A favorite among vegetarians, this vintage bagged the silver medal at Barbara Drady’s 13th Pinot Noir Shootout.

2008 Kawarau Estate Pinot Noir – This Pinot Noir takes full advantage of its unfined and unfiltered body, yielding a fruity mid palate of cranberries and pomegranate. Its aroma features an exquisite blend of rose tea, spices, berries, and oak. The 2008 Kawarau Estate Pinot Noir has garnered a score of 89 from renowned wine critic Stephen Tanzer.

2009 Benedicte & Stephane Tissot Arbois Poulsard Vieilles Vignes – The apple in the eye of many vegetarian wine enthusiasts, this wine welcomes drinkers with aromatics punctuated by red berries. As for the flavor, notes of strawberry, chocolate, and raspberries linger on the palate. CellarTracker’s community of wine lovers gave it a score of 90.

Whites

2014 Girasole Vineyards Chardonnay – Earning silver medals in different competitions in 2015 and 2016, this vintage should be a welcome addition to any wine collection across the globe. Its aromatic profile has a pronounced fragrance of apple accentuated by hints of banana. On the palate, you’ll find notes of apple, lemon, and pear.

2009 Bonny Doon Ca’ del Solo Albarino – Featured by Sunset Magazine in its August 2010 issue, this fruity wine is characterized by the aroma of grapefruit, pineapple, and lime, complemented by notes of lime, green apple, and pear. It has a subtle medium finish and is not overwhelmingly sweet. RJonWine scores it an impressive 88.

2008 Dr. L Riesling – Dr. Loosen’s winery is internationally recognized for its stellar assemblage of vintages, and the 2008 Dr. L Riesling stands at the forefront of the vegetarian market. The vibrant vintage is embellished with fruity and crisp aromatics and pleasurable notes of mango and lime. Wine Spectator gave this gem a rating of 90.

With vegetarian wine available on the market, vegetarians and vegans can freely tilt their glasses and savor the crispness of an elegant vintage. The rising popularity of clay-based and other mineral fining agents provides stylish herbivores an ever-growing array of wine options.