Vegetarian Wines

Posted on: 30 April 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Our taster discovers that you don't have to be vegetarian to appreciate a new breed of wine.


No I haven't been at the Sherry, well not so far this morning anyway! Vegetarian wines do exist, and like vegetarianism itself, they are becoming more and more popular.

But what exactly are vegetarian wines? Simply put they are wines that have been made without the use of animal or fish extracts. Such products as isinglass, made from fish bladders - nice! - gelatine, from boiled animal bones, and chitosan, from the shells of crustaceans, have all been employed as fining agents. Fining agents are used in wine - and beer for that matter - to remove small deposits that might otherwise cause clouding and instability.

Now effective as these methods are, they are also costly and to many deeply unpleasant, and with so many alternatives available, including egg whites for the really posh and bentonite, a form of clay, for the less exalted, it does beg the question why do the old methods remain?

Well to some cynical stick in the muds - the trade you won't be surprised to hear is littered with them - wines made in this sensitive way are deemed to have something wrong with them.

To those stick in the muds I say it's time to drink again.

First up is not only a great wine, but also a great bargain. The Leopard's Leap Lookout White (£3.16 Tesco.com) combines three classic varieties, Chenin, Chardonnay and Sauvignon, grown in three different South African regions, to give a wine that is mouthwateringly refreshing thanks to the Chenin and the Sauvignon and yet has underlying richness given to it by the Chardonnay. The result is a wine packed with grape and grapefruit notes spiced with creamy vanilla and red apple. Jolly jolly on its own, it's a fine partner to green salads, roasted vegetables and poultry.

Argentina has been at the vanguard of vegetarian wines for some time now and the Fair Trade approved La Riojana Fair Trade Torrontes (£6.99 Virgin Wines.com) is one of the most exciting there is. Torrontes is going to be the Argentina's next big thing. With its rapier sharp acidity and bulging bags of grapefruit, green apple and herb tones it has some of the freshness of Sauvignon but with the character of something complex like Marsanne. A definite food wine, I think it goes superbly with flat white fish, such as skate wings in lemon butter - bliss! - though I'd imagine with roasted goats' cheese, mushroom risotto or white meats it'd be just as lovely.

I must confess that my next wine wasn't one I would have picked normally, but when I tasted this - blind - I was rather more complimentary than my prejudiced palate would have normally allowed. The fact is though that the 2007 Oxford Landing Sauvignon, South Australia (£4.45 Waitrose.com) is rather good. The drought affected vintage has lowered this wine's acidity, turning ripe gooseberry notes into ripe peach ones, and given it an extra degree of weight. A delight chilled on its own, I would have thought it would have made a fine partner to salmon, lemon chicken or even roasted vegetable couscous.

Vegetarian red wines are less abundant than whites, but from my experience I'd say they were slightly superior in terms of quality. Certainly Tesco's Red Burgundy (a snip at £4.74 Tesco.com) acquits itself well. For decidedly modest money you get a medium bodied wine that's bursting with juicy raspberry and cranberry tones, a whiff of spice and touch of strawberry to the fresh finish. Cracking with salmon and red meats, its piercing acidity and soft, supple nature make it a red you can enjoy all summer long.

Beaujolais has had a bad press over the last few years, much of it well deserved when it comes to that ghastly nouveau muck. Proper Beaujolais though remains one of the world's last affordable fine wines as perfectly shown by the stunning Château de Chenas 2005 (£8.49 Majestic). Beneath its wonderfully fragrant cherry and bubblegum nose is a rich, velvety, powerful palate that is loaded with currant, black cherry and white pepper essences. Big enough and bold enough to take on the likes of barbecued steaks and chicken, the Chenas is civilized enough to be sipped quietly all by itself with fine company.

Finally from Portugal we have the Casal dos Planetas 2004 (£7.63 Vinceremos) . Like most Portuguese table wines, subtly is not the Planetas strong point. What it lacks in sophistication though it more than makes up for in enthusiasm. Packed from cork to punt with dried black cherry, currant and plum flavours, this mighty wine packs a velveteen punch and finishes with a tremendous surge of herbs and spices. Just the thing for a really good, strong cheddar or mushroom pâté, I think it's one wine that shouldn't be attempted alone!

Well that's it for another week. I hope I've shown you that vegetarian wines aren't just for vegetarians and that you'll try some of these beauties for yourself.

More soon!

Theo.

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