16 November 2010

Four wine shopping tips for vegetarians, vegans & plain old greenies

Are you always on the hunt for a good bottle of wine? With hundreds of brands available at a typical liquor store, it may be embarrassing to admit but sometimes clever-sounding names and great-looking labels end up sealing the deal in the end. Even narrowing down the playing field to organic varieties can render the buyer a bit perplexed since the selections are still surprisingly vast and you just never know what you’re going to end up with once you uncork a bottle. The next time you decide to take the wine plunge, here are a few things to bear in mind that might make your shopping excursion a little easier:

Looking For A Variety That Reflects Your Environmental Commitment?

Then go organic or biodynamic. Grapes grown in certified organic wineries are not only free of chemical fertilizers and pesticides – the wines produced with them contain zero nonorganic additives and synthetic sulfates. Furthermore, wineries that adhere to certified organic standards are often fully committed to sustainable practices such as using alternative energy, integrating on-site recycling/composting and preserving the health of their topsoil through natural means.

Biodynamic wineries go one step further by integrating sustainable cultivation methods with an almost spiritual nurturing process designed to heal the earth and leave it in better condition (compared to when they initially started). In addition to augmenting their farmland with a unique compost recipe meant to stimulate and facilitate life energy (a process that was established by Rudolph Steiner, the biodynamic farming ‘founder’), wineries that embrace this method adhere to certified organic requirements and practice exceedingly sustainable techniques.

Hesitant To Go Organic/Biodynamic Due To Cost?

Surprisingly, there are myriad organic and biodynamic wine brands that are comparable in price to mainstream versions without all the synthetic sulfites or animal-derived fining agents. Frey Vineyards, La Rocca Vineyards, Dixon’s Peak, Stellar Organics and Badger Mountain Vineyard are high on the list of considerations, almost all of which happen to be vegan. If you’re looking for a nudge in the right direction, it might be worth exploring the Organic Wine Review for countless video clips featuring discerning critics waxing poetic on the grapey goodness of the latest-greatest organically produced bottle.

Keen On Sipping A Vegetarian/Vegan Friendly Blend?

Unlike mainstream wines that are clarified with animal-derived fining agents to remove cloudiness and haze, vegetarian versions use egg white instead of gelatin or fish bladder (a.k.a. isinglass). For full-throttle vegans, there are certain vineyards that go the distance by filtering their fermented grape juice with bentonite clay rather than animal-derived ingredients -- Penman Springs Vineyard, Cupcake Vineyard and Philo Ridge Vineyards all produce reliable go-to bottles. When in doubt, it’s well worth reviewing this comprehensive list of thumbs-up libations but whatever you do, don't forget to make sure that the label on your final selection is adhered with a vegan-friendly glue.

Wondering Whether Sulfites Are Good Or Bad?

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) – which naturally arises during the wine-yeast fermentation process -- has gotten a bad reputation despite being an integral part of countless food and beverage industries. Frequently used to keep countless dried fruits shelf-stable, these preserving agents contain antibacterial and antioxidant properties that prolong the life of edibles while nipping any funny business in the bud. Fermented grape juice is susceptible to oxidation and the development of unpleasant odors, which is where synthetic SO2 comes to the rescue, but critics say that wine sulfites tend to trigger headaches…plus they compromise the inherent flavors and complexities of juice-with-a-kick.

Interestingly, European regulations enable organic wineries to include sulfites in their grapey libations, whereas that’s a total no-no for certified organic producers in the United States. Wine fans who intentionally seek out sulfite-free varieties should know that along with the potential for faster rates of spoilage, the wine that they’re drinking likely contains naturally-occurring sulfites in smaller amounts, no matter what the label says. This is the result of an innate protection mechanism in grapevines that produces natural sulfites to ward off bacteria and fungus, but frankly, who has a bottle of wine lying around for very long anyway? Problem solved!

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: cc: flickr.com/photos/rogersmj