Vegan-friendly wines may come as a surprise to some people, after all wine is just fermented grape juice, right?
Sure, the odd spider or bee might end up in a ferment, but that is not what we are referring to here. We have been conditioned to expect wines that have great clarity and that means many elements that arise in the production of
wine need to be eliminated before the wine is put into a bottle.
Grapes have many different types of compounds in them from proteins, to phenolics, acids and tannins which you
don’t necessarily need to understand in any detail. They all play their role in the aroma, taste and structure of a wine;
tannins being an easy one to understand as they contribute the astringency and sometimes bitterness in red wines.
Acid is the mouth-watering effect most obvious in white wines, one acid; tartaric can form small crystals in a bottle of
wine that are sometimes mistaken for small shards of glass although they are completely harmless. Some proteins and
lees (dead yeast) can give a wine a slight haze or cloudy appearance, detracting from the crystal-clear appearance we have historically expected. All of these things are completely harmless, and with the rise of orange/ natural wines, they are becoming more accepted and even sought after.
To remove these elements from a wine, winemakers need to add and then remove something from the wine. This is where the animal products have traditionally entered the equation. Egg whites, fish bladders and casein (from milk) are used to fine wines because of their ability to attract tartrates, proteins etc. essentially bundling them up to the point where they precipitate (changing from a liquid solution to a solid) and can be left to settle in the tank/ barrel before the remaining wine is removed and the solids, made up of the fining agent and the proteins/ phenols/ tannins etc are leftover to be disposed of.
A vegan friendly wine therefore is one which does not use animal products during this stage of production. This can come about two ways; the simplest way is to not fine or filter a wine which is very common amongst natural wines, as well as producers who believe that these processes strip flavour from the wine along with the elements they are trying to remove. The second way is to use non-animal products to get the job done, clay-based solutions such as bentonite are commonly used as well as carbonbased agents such as charcoal.
If you feel like jumping in the deep end of vegan friendly wines, a Pet-Nat one place to start. These lightly sparkling wines are fermented normally, however before the ferment is entirely finished and there is still some sugar left, they are bottled allowing for the remaining sugar to ferment, the by-products of which remain in the bottle.
One such by-product of fermentation is carbon dioxide which gives the wine it’s carbonation. Others include the dead yeast which give the wine a slight cloudy appearance. Dhiaga is the independent, side project of Best’s Great Western winemaker Justin Purser. The wines allow him to explore styles outside of his day job, two of which are fantastic clean and pure Pet-Nats (both $26). One is made from Gewurztraminer and the other a Moscato fermented along with hops.
They balance the intense aromatics and fruit of each variety with subtle phenolics for a touch of grip and bright acidity that make them lively and delicious. The 2019 wines have just been released and this is as living a bottle of wine as you may find
given the building blocks for continued fermentation are all there in the bottle.
Try them now and then revisit them in Spring and summer as you’ll see them continue to evolve in the bottle.