It has been said recently that ethical veganism is “a philosophical belief held by a significant portion of the population in the UK and around the world.” I am not a vegan nor was brought up in a culture sympathetic to vegetarianism -a ‘meat and two veg’ man -but I’m attracted to the idea of new philosophical beliefs. A recent report in the Guardian goes on to state “The recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 will have potentially significant effects on … the provision of goods and services.”
In my 1970s care-free days of wine and roses, I had come across a certain Hungarian red wine Egri Bikavér, a blend of local grapes consisting mostly of Kékfrankos, synonym of the modern Blaufrankisch grape variety of Austria. Well, I read that way back in the 1550s the all-powerful Turkish Ottoman army invaded Bohemia and when defeated by an inferior force of Hungarians in the city of Eger in Northern Hungary, attributed the defenders’ bravery, in legend, to their drinking of the local red wine that the Turks thought akin to ‘bull’s blood’. The Ottomans had invented wine marketing as such and this must have led to a ‘bull’s blood’ boom south of the Hungarian border. By inference with a head full of this bumpf, you would think that the drinking of ‘bull’s blood’ wine would be a million miles away from ethical veganism. The same conclusion might be true for ‘Beefsteak’ Malbec or ‘Toro Loco’ - well read on.
The wineyard where they produce Egri Bikaver, amongst others
To class wine as ‘vegan’ it’s down mainly to the fining i.e. clarification of the raw wine, but also colouring and the corks used. You can drink unfiltered natural wine but in order to get clear wine, which obviously is more appealing, wineries may use as fining agents beef gelatine , egg albumin, milk protein and ‘isinglass’ swim-bladder fish products, the latter which apparently are in healthy supply to the wine trade. These being proteinoid bind and remove cloudy deposits that bind to proteins during winemaking. Some wines have added colouring and some of these chemicals have an animal origin. Finally some cork products use gelatine based glues derived from crushed up animal bones. So there are a lots of ways animal products can sully a perfectly good wine.
Hidden away in the lockers of the foodstuffs laboratories alternatives are available; bentonite, a clay-based product, pea protein, the polymer PVPP, vegetable based dyes and solid corks. Those looking for vegan wine which eshews all things animal should look for the Vegan Society/EVU trademark, a small V-shaped green plant. A list of vegan wines can be found on the internet (http://www.barnivore.com/wine) and Waitrose, The Wine Society, and Majestic all now have separate sections on their websites for vegan wine. What you will find is that vegan wine and normal wine both taste the same yet vegan wine is just a bit more philosophically ethical, and I’ve got not beef with that.
By the way if you’d like the taste of the rollicking 1970s, in a more modern form, my choice of the month is Thummerer Pince Egri Bikavér or Eger Bull's Blood Classicus, I am assured they are 100% vegan and “don't use any ingredients or additives that are animal-based”, quite surprising really and somewhat of a turnaround! For the adventurous, it’s available from specialist importers Hungarian Wine House at £15.10 a bottle plus £7.90 delivery. You can drink ethically while they pour all those fish swim-bladders back into the sea.
Clear Wine Co. Founder, shares his latest wine-based musings and expertise to get your taste buds tingling.