I’ve been asked what kind of wine to serve with fish, but never until now what kind of fish gets added to wine.
The question came from a ‘vegan,’ that odd genus of vegetarian so extreme in their commitment that they won’t even eat animal crackers. They won’t eat honey because it exploits bees or use shampoo containing eggs because it exploits chickens, and they sure the heck won’t drink wine that’s been filtered using fish bladders.
It’s a remarkable set of ethics, since refusing to eat fish puts vegans on a slightly higher moral plateau than Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my initial impulse is: Cool, more wine for me to wash down my kitten burgers.
But it’s worth considering on the level of ‘things that make you go huh?’. As consumers, we demand crystal clear wine, and nearly every time the slightest hint of opacity passes beneath a judge’s captious eye, points evaporate.
To achieve this pristine state, wine undergoes process called ‘fining’ during which suspended particles—generally bits of grape skin, leaf or yeast cells—are removed. For a humble homeboy like me, it’s done by letting my cellar-made wine sit until the solids have precipitated to the bottom of the carboy, then racking off the top. Commercially, it’s often done by adding substances with higher specific gravities than the wine, which then attract proteins and suspended solids as they sink so that everything winds up in a removable clump at the bottom of the barrel. And quickly, too—which is why it’s a more business-savvy technique than mine.
Over the years, most fining agents have been egregiously ‘non-vegan’: Ox blood, egg whites, milk casein, horse gelatin and the bladders of the same happy pregnant sturgeons whose bellies are ripped open so that rich people can enjoy beluga caviar.
Admittedly, even to a carnivore, the ‘ick’ factor in this list runs high—and I don’t mean white-spot parasites from the aquarium.
Fortunately for those vegans seeking to replace animal proteins with alcohol, there are wines on the market that righteously avoid using any critter products whatsoever in their fining processes, substituting vegan-friendly alternatives like seaweed and aluminum silicate. Drink these wines and the only bladder you’ll need worry about is your own.
I’d rustle up some vegans and offer to celebrate these finds over a shot of Wild Turkey, but I think I know where that conversation would end up.
The following selections are guaranteed to contain no animal-derived products. What’s more, these wineries produce ONLY vegan wines.
Drink up, vegans; I’ll be fine (pun intended). I’ve found that beer goes pretty well with kitten, too.
Wrights Gewurztraminer, Terrace Vineyard, Gisbourne, New Zealand, 2010, around $25: Soft evergreen and rose petal on the nose, rich lychee palate, medium finish with nice acidity. Serve with tofurky.
Fitzpatrick Sangre de Montana Rosé, California, 2010, around $10: Don’t get your knickers in a knot, vegans; mountain blood is safe. A nice, dry pink ‘world wine’ wherein Irish winemakers make French-style rosé using Italian cultivars—sangiovese, zinfandel, nebbiollo and barbera. They must be vegans, these Irish; didn’t a million die in some potato famine rather than switch to bacon cheeseburgers? Serve with leftover tofurky (and there’ll be plenty of that).
Organic Wineworks Zenful Zinfandel, California, 2007, around $13: Brambly and spicy; a nice, bargain-priced red offering mouthfuls of juicy blackberry and plum and a clean, nutty finish. Serve with tofurky jurky.
Frey Organic Dessertage Port, North Coast, 2002, about $35: It’s also sulfite-free, ye migraine-sufferers—this stab at a port-style wine is a luscious, viscous delight, gorgeous with deep blackberry and dark cherry notes; thick and well-balanced with acidity and a brandy spike at the end. Serve with tofutti.