When we were invited to a vegan wine tasting at Candle 79, I was all over it! Who wouldn’t want to sample a variety of brand-new vegan wines, eat gourmet vegan food and spend the evening with some of the coolest vegan peeps around? The only question mark was whether I’d get out of work on time, as my day job is at a Very Big Fashion Magazine, and it was Fashion Week. Thankfully, the gastronomic gods smiled upon me and I was released at a decent hour, at which point I got what was probably the only available cab in all of Midtown—another sign that the evening was going to be a good one. So I made my way up to Candle 79, where the Discerning Brute, Joshua Katcher, was already waiting. (Be sure to check out his write-up of the evening.) We were soon joined by my fellow SuperVegans Sam Cohen, Deborah Diamant, Olivia Lane, and Jason Das, plus cooking superhero Terry Hope Romero and her husband, John. This had the makings of a stellar evening.
Vegan Vine is the first wine to use “vegan” as part of its brand name. The wine is produced by the 150-acre family-owned Clos LaChance Winery and Estate Vineyard from California’s Central Coast. Our host for the evening was Cheryl Murphy Durzy, daughter of the founders. Cheryl was as informative as she was welcoming, and we learned all about what makes wine vegan or not, and the various labeling and regulatory hassles that wine marketers face.
There are four fining agents used to get the solid remnants out of wine: gelatin, egg whites, dairy, and the most popular, sturgeon swim bladders, a.k.a. isinglass. The main vegan fining agent is bentonite, a type of clay. This is what’s used to fine Vegan Vine’s white wines; the reds are unfined. It’s worth noting that all of Clos LaChance’s wines are vegan, not just the Vegan Vine line, though the Vegan Vines are the only ones certified vegan by Vegan Action.
Each course illustrated by Deborah Diamant, who makes lovely sketches when you get enough wine in her. This was our appetizer, about which she noted, “The vegetables were a little salty, but the wine was smooth and refreshing and helped rid my palate of saltiness. Also, vegan white wine is harder to find than vegan red, and this is a great wine, especially for the price point.”
Clos LaChance is certified by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, and Cheryl mentioned some of the environmental and animal-friendly efforts they’ve made: switching from trucked-in chicken manure fertilizer to fungicultural waste from the mushroom farm next door, pumping the water from the low parts of the vineyard into the wetlands across the road, and causing an uptick in the local tiger salamander population. We also got into how much biodynamic agriculture relies on animal products—biodynamic wine is by definition nonvegan.
While regulators didn’t object to “vegan” being in the brand name, Clos was prohibited by the Trade and Tax Bureau from mentioning on the label that the product is produced without animal products. They’ve gotten around this somewhat by hanging an information-rich “necker” on each bottle. (As for the bottles themselves, Vegan Vine uses Eco-Glass, which is 25% lighter than the glass in a traditional wine bottle.)
And then service began. Oh boy! I don’t usually drink white wine, but Vegan Vine’s 2010 Sauvignon Blanc was surprisingly dry. There was something cool and almost refreshing about it despite the dryness, yet it also had a slightly tart undertone. The wine paired perfectly with the lentil-quinoa amuse bouche and the first course, ravioli with sautéed summer vegetables in white wine sauce and cashew cheese. The combination was seamless, in fact, because the ravioli was as delicious as the wine. The meal, and the tasting, couldn’t have started off more perfectly!
Deborah noted of the entrée pairing: “The celeriac puree is incredibly creamy! I could eat a huge mixing bowl of it. This red wine was a little flatter than the red that was paired with dessert, but who cares, because the puree was tremendous.”
The next one, a 2009 red blend, was dry but a little fruity, and not too sweet. It had a bit of an astringent smell when I was first going in, but thankfully the alcohol taste didn’t reveal itself on the tongue. This wine was Olivia’s favorite and Jason’s least favorite of the three. The wine went well with the walnut-crusted seitan, though it didn’t seem as much a match made in heaven as the white and the ravioli. Maybe that’s because I didn’t love the course as much. The vegetables and celeriac purée were good, but the seitan seemed almost a bit fatty, and I’ve never been a mushroom fan. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the wine, and, as with the white, I would definitely buy and enjoy it.
Deborah said of the dessert “I really didn’t think I liked figs. Apparently I do. I especially like them with ice cream, short bread cookies and a cabernet sauvignon reduction.”
By the time dessert and the third wine arrived, I had quite a nice buzz going, both from the booze and the company! The Fig Napoleon was delicious, with vanilla ice cream, cashew cream, and a reduction made from Vegan Vine’s own 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine had a super-dry taste—always a good thing—which was preceded by the most interesting aroma: slightly fruity, slightly spicy. Olivia thought she detected chocolate, and I could see why. But it was something else, and very intriguing. It turns out there are hints of anise in it, and while I’m not usually a fan, this had just a whisper of its flavor, and it worked. I really enjoyed this red as well, but I need to give it another try on its own, without the overwhelm of three rich courses and such a busy palate and impressive buzz.
I’ll say this: Kudos to Cheryl and her family for paving the way with their vegan, sustainable vineyard! And for bringing good wines with an affordable price point to retail venues and restaurants near you (be sure to ask your favorite places to carry Vegan Vine wines, distributed by Testa). Cheryl is incredibly knowledgeable about what makes the filtering process her family uses vegan—so much so that it’s shocking to me that she’s not vegan herself. (There’s always hope, right?) And I’m happy they came up with the idea for the necker so they can inform people about how animals are used in the wine-making process, despite the government’s attempts to keep such useful information off the bottle. I would love to try her family’s other wines—maybe at another pairing?—and hope they become more widely available too. In the meantime, how nice that we’ll soon be able to walk into a store on our way to a party and pull a bottle of really tasty, moderately priced wine with the word “vegan” on the label right off the shelf? I’m ready!