The Ham&High’s wine expert explores the difficulty of finding out whether your favourite tipple is free of animal products
Most wine drinkers have little idea – and probably care even less – about any products and practices beyond grapes and fermentation that are behind what’s in the glass.
But for those who do, finding out isn’t always straightforward.
I faced that challenge myself, just before coronavirus made live wine tastings history. Two participants at a tasting I was running emailed me: “We’re vegan.”
The bottles were already chosen. Would they fit with those tasters’ principles?
Most crucially, were only vegetable products originating for example from peas or potatoes, or clay-based betonite, used to clear and stabilise the wines, rather than egg white, isinglass or gelatine?
I’d sourced two of them from Sainsbury’s and Waitrose, which regularly highlight vegan (and vegetarian) friendliness in their descriptions. But to find that information from the other supplier, the Wine Society, was much harder, involving seeking out specific bottles in the results of a “vegan” search.
So I delved a little further and found a perhaps surprising diversity of approach. Go to vintageroots.co.uk and the VG symbol appears against just about every bottle.
More than 98 per cent of the company’s range is vegan-friendly, says co-founder Lance Piggott.
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“Vintage Roots first highlighted whether the wines in our range were suitable for vegetarians and vegans in the late 1980s – and we have done ever since.”
Not that many customers (trade buyers apart) are concerned. “But those who do care have made an effort to find out, and can ask very specific questions.”
Next, I studied the lists of two members of The Bunch group of excellent independent merchants. Tanners Wines has clear identification, but Yapp Brothers does not, and its vegan search is inadequate.
Things might, though, change soon. Wine Society public relations manager Ewan Murray recognises drinkers’ interest and promises more clarity on a new website due in the summer.
Information from suppliers is not always easy to come by, he cautions.
Yapp Brothers has been researching vegan-friendly wines for some time, and Jason Yapp assured me “the majority of the wines we list are vegan”, in the sense that no animal products are used in their production.
One issue is certification, a bother too much for many small producers.
Then there’s the ultra-orthodox approach. Some vegan purists object to the use of horses in vineyards, which many celebrated growers favour.
Or, as Yapp adds, “One wine-maker I know observed that all grape harvests contain live insects so that in their opinion no wine is vegan!”
Still, I can confirm the quality of vegan wines with tempting cases currently available at vintageroots.co.uk – Fireside Reds (£79) and Spring & Easter (£125).