It’s National Wine and Cheese day, but what if you are a vegan? Do you abstain from this pleasure indulging “holiday” like a bench-warmer athlete in their varsity homecoming game? Not in the least! Indulge away with these vegan wines and plant-based cheese pairings sure to satisfy even the dairy and meat-eating crowd.
We collaborated with vegan snack company CompletEats to curate some pretty adventurous wine and “cheese” pairings while gearing up for this holiday. As a sommelier, wine company founder, and someone whom has seemingly spent her life serving people with food allergies and aversions, I am no newbie to the plant-based eater. I have fielded a few occasions of deep disappointment when I relay the news no strict vegan wants to hear… “wine is not vegan”.
It’s true, but why?
1 or more of these 4 main additives are in most wines that render it not safe for a devout vegan to consume.
Isinglass – dried fish bladders
Albumin – egg whites
Gelatin – animal collagen
Casein – cow’s milk protein
Most wine is not vegan for the same reason that many soups are not vegan – animal protein plays a vital role in clarifying and filtering. If you have had wine that is unfiltered or unfined, you would know that there is a distinct flavor difference in this style of wine. The wine has more “funk” to it — almost resembling kombucha flavors. Unfiltered and unfined wine also has a cloudy appearance, and sediment floating in the bottle. This is natural and could be dead yeast cells, reminisce of grape skins, or other impurities that are natural in formation, but perhaps less pleasing to the eye and palate.
It’s important to note that if you are not a strict vegan, and don’t mind interactions with animal products, these filtering and fining ingredients do not affect the flavor of wines, and aren’t present in the wine (possibly in trace amounts) – they are simply used in the processing of wine because they can be more cost effective and accessible than non-vegan fining agents like carbon, bentonite clay, limestone, kaolin clay, and plant casein (source: PETA.org)
How do I find vegan wine?
The easiest and simplest way to avoid animal products in your wine is to look for bottle labels that explicitly state “unfined” or “unfiltered” if you can not find wine that states “vegan” on the label.
Here is a great resource for you to cross check your current wine inventory with wines that are sans animal products.
There is rising popularity in wine clubs that deal with exclusively vegan wines. One local business I recommend is Vegan Wines.
Here’s the breaking news — most wine isn’t 100% vegan. Contingent upon the stringency in how you abide to cruelty-free and no traces of animal products, there is certainly other interactions with animal by-products in the methods of grape growing, labeling, shipping, and delivery.
A good case can be made for settling for wine that is simply unfined/unfiltered or labeled as “vegan-friendly” – if you are not a strict vegan, however, what if you are? For this, I enlisted the expertise of Vegan Wines president Frances Gonzalez who is a wine importer and distributor specializing in wines that are exclusively vegan from the soil up – meaning that absolutely no animal by-products are used in growing grapes, and the wineries are visited personally by Frances to ensure the true vegan nature of the winemaking process.
WineUp: What are some popular vegan wines you recommend?
FG: This one is easy: Querciabella. We sell these wines exclusively to our club members; Sebastiana and Jane are my dear friends. I am returning to their vineyard this fall to go behind the scenes with them on the soil to share with our club members.
WineUp: What is your favorite resource for fact checking vegan wines? I recently discovered Barnivore, what do you use?
FG: I am my own resource. I visit every vineyard of the wines we import and research that it is vegan from the soil. I love Barnivore but they say they are not focused on the soil so I can’t use them. We are working hard to bring the soil part to surface, to ensure manure is not used to fertilize the vines.
WineUp:If there is someone who is a devout vegan, could they consume wine that isn’t marketed as vegan if it is labeled as unfined and unfiltered?
FG: The wines marked vegan are not necessarily vegan and that is a hard fact coming to surface. I do not care for labeling because I have learned during my research that the labels, certifications are more for the money making than the truth. Do you know that I cannot sell certain CA wines certified organic because they can use over 300 ingredients and still be labeled “Organic?”
WineUp: So if we can’t trust labeling of “organic” and “vegan”, what can be done to trust a product?
FG: Thank you so much for asking.Vegan Wines logo is in the trademark process to be our private certification that we visited the vineyard to confirm from the soil that the wine is vegan and free or harsh ingredients. This will be a private labeling and not for sale. I am also a part of the Women of the Vine and Spirts and working on getting vegan wines to a well known category in the wine industry not just because of veganism but because they are darn good wines with great people behind the making.
If you want to check out more vegan wines, and support the cause, please visit www.veganwines.com for more information and great resources.
I am not personally a vegan, but believe that wine is drinkable art, sippable history, and a story in a glass. Above all, wine is a catalyst for connection and should remain inclusive, not exclusive. I wanted to bring awareness to vegan wines, so that people with the vegan lifestyle can feel included in wine culture even on days like Wine and Cheese day.
Below are three vegan wine and cheese pairings. For the live tasting – you can visit this link here and catch the entire tasting with Lauren Chew, plant-based diet enthusiast and founder of Vegan snack company, CompletEats.
Here is the line up. Cheers!
3 unfiltered/unfined wines with vegan “cheese” pairings: