17 Apr 2012
Fining is something we get asked about a lot these days, as food allergies and the need for dietary restrictions increase. At Mt Difficulty we do not typically use dairy products to fine our wines but, when required, may use egg whites for our Pinot Noirs and Isinglass, a fish product, to fine the whites. In many cases we don't fine the Pinot Noirs, particularly the better quality wines. It must be said that if fining products are used, at most the residue would be one part per billion or trillion, if any remained at all. The finings are removed from the wine, so the fining product goes with them.
For those interested in knowing more about fining and whether it might impact on your enjoyment of wine, Sue Courtney has written about the subject in her blog at www.wineoftheweek.com. We have reprinted it here for your interest:
Sue Courtney's blog of vinous ramblings, wine, food & other vinous topics from New Zealand, Apr 16th 2012
V is for Vegan - and there are wines for you!
"Samantha Hayes is doing Drive next week," said Radio Live's Drive Show producer Mark Wilson when I finished my on air wine chat just before Easter. I knew nothing about Samantha other than she used to read news on TV3. Hadn't seen her for a while though. I would find out later that was because she was 'on loan' to Channel 7 newsroom in Australia. The loan period was up. She was coming back to her homeland.
"I've got a Sauv Blanc for next week," I replied to Mark. But when I got home I decided to fire up the Google browser to see what I could find out about Sam. That's what you do these days, because you can. I typed 'Samantha Hayes wine' into the Google search box. Well, lordy me. Up popped stories about Samantha being vegan! And in an interview with Sam in Good magazine was a surprising and somewhat disturbing comment. She said that someone told her, "You know you won’t be able to drink wine." My immediate reaction was, 'Gosh, I have to fix this misinformation.'
Vegans are strict vegetarians who do not eat any products derived from animals. This means milk, eggs, fish and gelatine are not on a vegan's menu. Vegetarians who are not vegan may choose to eat animal-derived products such as a milk, eggs and cheese. Others may avoid only animal meat, yet still eat creatures from the sea. I looked at the back label of my Sauv Blanc. "Produced with the aid of milk. Traces may remain." This wine would not do for a vegan.
"Why is milk used in wine? Surely wine is just pure grapes with the action of yeast to ferment grape sugars into alcohol?" I hear you ask. Well, you may be surprised to find out that milk and other animals products may be used in wine in a process called fining, which takes place just before the wine is bottled. There's also filtering, which removes coarse material such as yeast lees and any remnants of the grape, eg skins, pips and stalks. But fining is used to remove organic compounds, to adjust aroma and flavour and to stabilise and clarify the wine. There are many products that can be used for fining and each has a specific role. They include:
- Casein - a protein derived from milk
- Egg whites (albumin)
- Isinglass - a collagen from the swim bladders of certain fish
- Gelatine - from bones and connective tissues of cows and pigs
- Chitin - from shells
- Bentonite - a clay
- Silica gel and other natural rock and mineral products
- Synthetic fining agents
The alternative is no fining at all. "Careful management in the winery and gravity does the job," explained West Brook's winemaker James Rowan, who produces some unfined wines. So while some wines are not suitable for vegans, there are many that definitely are. Vegans can drink wines fined without the use of animal products and wines that haven't had any fining at all. But how do they know? Well, the back label may have clues.
Firstly the Vegetarian Society Approved logo. Moana Park is one of only two wineries in New Zealand that displays this logo across the full range of wines. The other is Wright's Wines from Gisborne. Others would like to use it but as Tim Kerruish from Folding Hill in Central Otago explains, "We did look at getting accredited by the Vegetarian Society but more compliance costs so didn't in the end."
Secondly a statement stating the wine has not been fined, ie unfined.
Wines labels are required by law to state whether milk or egg products or fish collagen fining products other than isinglass have been used in the wine. This is an 'allergen statement'. Prior to October 2011, the use of isinglass had to be stated too. If nothing is mentioned on the back label and there is no commentary that the wine is unfined yet you really want to try the wine, the best thing to do is to contact the wine producer directly stating exactly which wine you are questioning.
I contacted two producers whose bottles in the supermarket stated only the use of preservatives. So they hadn't used milk or eggs but could they have used isinglass or gelatine?
Catherine from Trinity Hill responded saying the wines I questioned were fined with bentonite and while many of their wines don't use animal products, some did. "I think each winery would have to confirm it for the individuals. As we do not target the vegetarian market, we don’t take the additional step to disclose all the products used in fining. Perhaps it is something worth considering," she said. The other producer I contacted replied, "We only declare milk or egg products used in fining, as required by law." If that is the reply you get when making enquiries, I'd say pick another bottle off the shelf - there sure are plenty out there.
There are a number of wine producers listed on the www.vegansociety.co.nz (toolkit page -see PDF on right hand side)) and www.vegetarian.org.nz. Some labels include:
- Rockburn (Central Otago) - all wines
- Te Whare Ra (Marlborough)- all wines except the 2010 Syrah
- Blackenbrook (Nelson) whites wines only and from the 2011 vintage onwards only
Another way to find v-friendly labels is to Google "nz wine unfined". There is an abundance of labels returned from the search. Winemakers could make it easier for consumers by simply on the back label that no animal products have been used in the production of their wine, if indeed that is the case.
I chose Moana Park Estate Series Viognier 2010 ($19 - $22) from Hawkes Bay to take into the studio and taste with Samantha. She asked why I chose it. It was an easy question to answer. Apart from being vegan-friendly and Moana Park asking me if I would like a wine to review when I asked on Twitter for vegan-friendly wines, I truly love this wine. I had tasted it last November at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards gold medal tasting and swooned. Then again in February when I was passing through Hawkes Bay on route from Masterton to Auckland. I only had time to visit one winery and Moana Park, inland from Taradale, at Puketapu, was more or less on the way. This wine was the highlight of the tasting and I bought some to take home. Like the best Viogniers it has the aromatic qualities of the most redolent Rieslings, the full-bodied texture of Chardonnay but without the oak and the spicy flourish and rose petal-like florals of Gewurztraminer at the end. And most of all it has the ethereal apricot and creamed nut flavours we expect from the Viognier grape. Simply magic!
But the other important thing I learned from my in studio chat with Samantha that she was only vegan for a year. Now a not-so-strict vegetarian, she is no longer averse to milk and egg products. So I'll be taking in the Sauvignon Blanc this week. Listen onwww.radiolive.co.nz streaming from 3.45pm Wednesday, New Zealand time.