Meat’s off the menu. Which wine should you drink?
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New York chef Daniel Humm caused a stir recently when he announced his plan to eliminate (virtually) all animal products from the menu at his three-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park. “The way we have sourced our food... is not sustainable. This is just a fact.”
Three wines for plant-based menus
Domaine de la Cadette Chablis 2019, £28.90, lescaves.co.uk
Fanny Sabre 2019, £32, dynamicvines.com
Zind-Humbrecht Turckheim 2015, sohowine.co.uk
Humm is the latest in a growing line of Michelin-starred chefs to champion plant-based cooking. But what does his decision mean for the wine list? Many wines are “fined” (ie, clarified) with egg white or fish-derived isinglass, so don’t pass the vegan test. If every dish on a menu is vegan, should the wine list be vegan, too? And what are the implications of an entirely plant-based menu for food and wine matching – an art that’s traditionally been heavily reliant on meat, seafood and cheese?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Eleven Madison’s wine director Watson Brown says they’re not ready to jettison the 5,000-strong cellar at Eleven Madison Park just yet. “We are offering an entirely plant-based menu, but veganism is a label that implies more than we are practising,” he says. But thanks to the rise of sustainable and low-intervention winemaking, he adds, more fine wines than ever are now vegan by default, even if they don’t advertise themselves as such. He singles out Pierre and Jean Gonon in the Northern Rhône, Domaine Tempier in Provence, and Pierre Cotton in Beaujolais as good examples.
Determining whether a wine is vegan or not can be complicated. For most vegans, it simply boils down to whether the fining agent is animal-derived or not. (Many natural wines aren’t fined at all, and so are automatically vegan.) But there are some who refuse wine sealed with beeswax or labelled with animal glue as well. Biodynamic winemaking – which calls for soil preparations using cow horn – can also present a problem.
“You can very quickly disappear down the rabbit hole,” admits David Havlik, head sommelier at London’s top vegan restaurant Gauthier Soho, where the wine list is 100 per cent vegan. As a rule, wines that are lighter on oak and lower in alcohol tend to pair better with plant-based dishes, he says. “I love the Bourgogne Blanc 2019 from Fanny Sabre – it’s fantastic with our truffle tortellini. For more spicy dishes I like the Gewürztraminer Turckheim 2015 from Alsace’s Domaine Zind Humbrecht, which is beautifully light and fresh, but also has lots of ageing potential.” His go-to supplier for vegan wine is natural-wine specialist Les Caves de Pyrene.
Less than two per cent of the UK population currently identifies as vegan. But numbers quadrupled between 2014 and 2019. And retailers are taking note: Marks & Spencer has pledged to make its entire wine range vegan-friendly by 2022. With buying power like that behind the movement, vegan wine could soon be the norm.
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