Plant-based drinking and eating are becoming more and more popular – so much so that there is now the annual Veganuary event which runs during January and aims to get people trying a plant-based diet.
Did you know that according to research last year The Vegan Society guesses that, since the beginning of the pandemic, one in four of us has slashed the proportion of animal products we have in our diet?
Many people question how can wine not be vegan given that grapes are at their heart but the fact is many producers use animal-based products for fining (clarifying and stabilising) their products.
However, many producers are now moving away from including animal-derived substances such as isinglass (a protein taken from fish bladders) and casein (the principal milk protein) in their wine-making process with makers and brewers either using alternative plant-based products to fine their products – or they don’t fine at all.
Vegans should be on the lookout for the words ‘unfiltered’ and ‘unfined’ on the label. Barnivore.com is a great US directory where you can easily establish the vegan credentials of thousands of wines, beers and other products. It’s particularly useful since producers are not everywhere required to list ingredients and detail brewing and winemaking practices on their labels, thereby making it tricky to establish whether a product is essentially vegan-friendly or otherwise. Furthermore, accredited certification can be costly so one is often left in the dark.
QUALITY AND VARIETY
Such is the great choice and extensive range of vegan alcoholic drinks available today that you have most likely already drunk vegan beer, cider and wine without knowing it. Indeed, all the new wines listed at M&S are vegan-friendly (of course there is still lots of old stock left) and the vegan filter for Waitrose lists 538 bottles. Vegan labels pop out more now too. In particular, the Co-op and M&S have created catchy bottle labels so customers can easily identify vegan bottles and cans on their shelves. Whether you’re avoiding animal products but still want a glass of wine or you’re a non-vegan merely wishing to try a delicious bottle or can that you may not have tried before, read on to discover my vegan-friendly drinks selection. Try these… they’re the cream of the vegan drinks crop.
1. New-wave vegan red Bordeaux supermarket bargain
Tesco Claret 2020, Bordeaux, France (13.5%, Tesco, £5)
Punching above its weight, this juicy, plummy, fruit-forward, medium-plus-bodied vegan-approved claret is a gem. Rosy pink beef, lamb and shepherd’s pie love this. It’s a bargain. An extremely useful red wine to have around.
2. Must-try floral and spicy Barolo, mainly from vineyards in the communes of La Morra and Verduno
Ascheri Barolo 2017, Piedmont, Italy (14.5%, Tesco, £23)
Trust Tesco also to sell one of the high street’s most aristocratic Barolos – the renowned Piedmont “King of wines and wine of kings” – made from the sun-loving, early budding and late-ripening Nebbiolo grape. From an early vintage but still in the first flush of youth, this 2017 DOCG is all undergrowth, cherry-kirsch, rain-soaked earth, dried flowers and tobacco leaf. Very elegant, with fine, chalky tannins. One for risotto with white truffles/fungi porcini – and indeed mushrooms in most culinary contexts. Non-vegans will be able to relish it with vitello tonnato, osso buco, stroganoff, veal saltimbocca, pork belly, ribeye/tomahawk steak, feathered game, roast goose and such cheeses as Parmigiano Reggiano and Castelmagno.
3. Uplifting, silky-smooth vegan red Beaujolais
Domaine La Chapelle Bizot Chiroubles 2019 Beaujolais Cru, France (13.5%, Co-op, £10)
Comprised of light, sandy soils and located on the western side of Fleurie, Chiroubles is the highest Beaujolais cru (from one of the district’s ten villages that are permitted to use their names on the label) creating superior, fragrant, light, refreshing red wines from the Gamay grape. Its south-east-facing vineyards are located as high as 450 metres (1500 ft) above sea level – that’s a lot higher than Betsom’s Hill in the North Downs, Kent’s highest point at 251 metres (823 ft). A joy to drink in mid-winter, this is my kind of granitic, tangy plum-perfumed Beaujolais, crammed with delicious, juicy, floral, red fruit (think cherries, raspberries and plums) and soft, fine, filigree tannins. Serve very lightly chilled between 12 and 15°C.
4. A must-try enthralling local vegan and organic white wine
This is Davenport’s benchmark white wine, a stellar organic and vegan-friendly blend from vineyards in the Weald of Kent. It has been made every year since 1993 and it’s rather special indeed, with stone fruits melding with hedgerows, freshly-cut grass and citrus. It has a gently creamy texture and is a fabulous wine to sip with food. Vegans look away now as winemaker Will Davenport, winner of the Amorim Sustainability Award (2018), told me that “it matches well with the obvious options such as seafood and white meat dishes, but also can cope with mild spices like lemongrass and chilli, so Thai food is a good combination.”
5. Must-try weighty vegan English sparkling rosé
Established in 1952 – with its first vintage in 1955 – by Francophile Major-General Sir Arthur Guy Salisbury-Jones, Hambledon is the UK’s oldest commercial vineyard. It was acquired in 1999 by Ian Kellett and winemaking since 2011 has been directed by Frenchman Hervé Jestin at the state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery in the Hants village reputed to be the cradle of cricket. Aged for a minimum of 45 months on yeast lees, this zingy 90 per cent Chardonnay and 10 per cent Pinot Noir blend – mostly from the 2015 harvest, with tank-aged reserve wines added – is a dynamo of delectableness. It’s brisk and extremely persistent with pure forest/red fruit and some leesy, toasty autolysis flavours; the elegant, creamy texture and bright acidity are part of a seamless whole. Incredibly stylish.
6. Viner’s local vegan beer recommendation
Floki Kveik IPA, Only with Love Brewing, Uckfield, E. Sussex (5.9%, Fuggles Bottle Shop, £4.20, 440ml)
Brewed with Citra, Magnum and Amarillo hops, this first-rate local vegan beer is a blast of pineapple, grapefruit and mango, with a little pine and tangerine. And what’s in the name? Roger Warner, co-founder of E. Sussex’s Only with Love brewery – founded during the first lockdown in 2020 – told me “He’s the Norse god. It’s a Kveik IPA… a Norwegian farmhouse yeast and it does some amazing fruity things to the flavour. All our beers are one hundred per cent vegan.” A brewery to watch. Some great kombucha (fermented tea) too! Their beers are often on tap at Fuggles Beer Café(s), The Ragged Trousers, Sankeys, The George, Pantiles Tap and The Royal Oak. Cheers Rog and team!
Three standout local vegan-friendly still and sparkling wines
1. Westwell Summer Field 2020, Kent (£19.50, 12.5%) – trailblazing still Pinot Noir/Chardonnay field blend
Follow James on Twitter @QuixoticWine