On average, I’m probably asked about wines that are suitable for vegetarians about two or three times a year. However, for some reason, in the last couple of months, interest in vegetarian friendly wines has increased dramatically and I’ve been asked to point out our veggie bottles on at least fifteen occasions.

At this point, I imagine that many of you are scratching your heads and wondering, “How can wine, a product that’s comprised entirely of fermented grape juice, be anything other than vegetarian friendly?”

Well, the answer lies not in the actual makeup of the wine but in the way it’s produced. At the end of the winemaking process, most winemakers choose to clarify and stabilise their wines before they are bottled by using a practice known as fining. There are good reasons for doing this: fining a wine gives a clearer appearance to the wine and it also reduces the risk of unwanted flavours and aromas in the bottle.

But it’s the products used in the fining process that can cause a problem for vegetarians. The less than appealing sounding bull’s blood, a traditional fining agent, was banned by the EU after the BSE crisis but other animal-derived products are still permitted for the production of wine sold in Europe. Amongst the most common are isinglass (fish bladders), gelatin, casein (milk protein) and albumen (egg whites).

Currently, there is no obligation for winemakers to declare usage of animal products on their labels. So, in most retailers or restaurants, vegetarians have no idea whether or not a wine has been fined, or whether a veggie-friendly fining agent, such as bentonite, has been used.

Even for those of us in the wine trade, it’s often hard to find out exactly what has gone on during the fining process but, amongst our stock of over 500 wines, we have identified a good number of wines that are vegetarian friendly. One such wine is the Bodegas Rioja Blanco, Fermentado En Barrica 2014 by Luis Cañas.

Bodegas Rioja Blanco, Fermentado En Barrica,  Luis Cañas 2014

Comprised of 85% Viura and 15% Malvasia, the Canas Rioja Blanco is a beautifully balanced example of white Rioja that straddles the styles of the old and the new. Vibrant citrussy Viura is blended with the more weighty Malvasia and a brief barrel maturation adds a honeyed roundness to the crisp lemony fruit.

Supremely elegant, the wine shows, alongside the honey and lemon, notes of flowers, fruits and hazelnuts. Pair it with mushroom risotto or try any of the other vegetarian food and wine matches below that I’ve taken from our in store food matching charts.

Artichokes
France – Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley
Italy – Pinot Grigio or Soave

Asparagus
France – Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley
Italy – Pinot Grigio
The New World (non-European) – Sauvignon Blanc

Green Salad
France – Chablis, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume
Italy – Pinot Grigio, Verdicchio
The New World – Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc

Caesar Salad
France – Muscadet, white wines from the Maconnais region of Burgundy

Waldorf Salad
Italy – Prosecco

Nicoise Salad
France – Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley
Worldwide – Delicate Rieslings

Mushrooms
France – Red Burgundian wines with a bit of age
Italy – Chianti, Nebbiolo
New Zealand – Pinot Noir

Mushroom Risotto
Italy – Falanghina, Fiano
Spain – White Rioja

Roasted Vegetables
Italy – Verdicchio, Pecorino, Vernaccia di San Gimignano

Roasted Red Peppers
Spain – Tempranillo, Rioja

Unripe Tomatoes
France – Colombard, Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley
Italy – Pinot Grigio, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

Ripe Tomatoes
Italy – Soave Classico
New World – Unoaked Chardonnay
Italy – Chianti, Sangiovese

Cooked Tomatoes
Italy – Barbera, Chianti, Bardolino
Spain – Tempranillo that’s made in a fruity style
Worldwide – Juicy Merlot

Onion Tart, Quiche etc.
Worldwide – Pinot Gris