Monthly Archives: June 2013

Vegan shmegan

Working in marketing means people ask you to deliver all sorts of information on a daily basis. What I find the most difficult to deal with is when people ask me to give them a list of wines that are vegetarian or vegan. I mainly find it difficult because it’s total nonsense. Now, I have nothing against vegetarians or vegans and never presume to discourage wine consumption but I seriously think that if they are so concerned about whether wines are veggie or vegan, they should just not drink them.

I recently read an article on a consumer website talking about animal cruelty in conjunction with wine. The article talked about isinglass, which is used as a fining agent for white wines. It’s made from the swim bladders of sturgeon, an endangered fish. The article suggested that sturgeon are caught specifically for their swim bladders in order to make isinglass. Errr….what? Have you seen the size of those things? Nonsense. Sturgeon is pretty tasty from what I hear. It is caught for food to begin with (and especially caviar) –  isinglass is a by-product, not the reason. To blame wine producers for making sturgeon endangered is a simplistic, un-researched way to look at things.

Aside from isinglass, other fining agents are routinely used during winemaking to ensure wines are clear and haze-free. If you like your wines a bit on the cloudy side (some do, I am not one of them), many ‘natural’ wine evangelists would point you in that direction. ‘Natural’ wines supposedly have nothing added to them and nothing taken away. Great for vegetarians and vegans?  Actually, I believe that to call any wine vegan is hypocritical. So, you want a wine that has not been fined with any animal products and none of this product is left in the wine. Fine. Fining agents like gelatine, milk, eggs or isinglass are usually removed from wine anyway so in theory they shouldn’t leave a residue.

But what about what happens during the winemaking part? You don’t mind how many bugs, spiders, flies and so on die in the making of a wine you’re about to drink, so long as they’re not in it once the wine is bottled? That’s not right. I worked in a few wineries and witnessed the death of many a fine species, including spiders and mantis, whether by drowning or in a crusher. Ladybirds can be especially bad. Some say the ladybird ‘flavour’ stays in the wine, making it smell and taste of peanuts or vegetal matter. Fining agents are not so good at removing it either and I have heard certain vintages of wines from certain high quality regions had been affected by the ladybird taint. What would vegans think about that? They’re most likely never going to know so who cares, right? Ignorance is bliss. Except it’s not. If you’re going so far to reject eating, drinking and wearing anything may have resulted in the death of an animal (whether intentional or not), you should also consider those bugs, spiders, flies (I’ve heard of event rats!) that get crushed/drown in wine during the winemaking process and probably refuse to drink wine altogether. Else, frankly, you’re a hypocrite.

Lenka (The Evil Monkey)

PS: I could also mention biodynamic wines and the use of stag bladders, cow horns from lactating cows or talk about microorganisms like bacteria or yeast but we could be here for a while…

Make mine a drum of wine

Fresh out of the grueling master of wine exams I fled straight to the beautiful Ionian island of Kefalonia to let my aching brain recuperate under the burning Mediterranean sun.  The air was heavy with the scent of wild herbs, the air alive with the music of goat bells and crickets, and not a house or a human to spoil the view down the rugged hillside to the turquoise ocean.

There was only one thing to perfect this beautiful solitude and that was obviously a glass of wine (no, I am not yet sick of the taste of wine).  Upon opening the fridge I was mildly horrified to find a 5 liter plastic drum of yellow ‘white’ wine.  Driven by the desperation of a late morning thirst I poured myself a glass. Don’t judge me, watches are forbidden on holiday and therefore I am not bound by ‘acceptable’ drinking hours.

Now let me state my case before you call me a snob.  I am a huge advocate of Greek wine; there is a roll call of stellar producers spread throughout the mainland and islands including Gaia, Alpha Estate, Biblia Chora, Sigalis and Harry Hatzidakis which I can’t recommend highly enough.   I am also an advocate of alternative packaging for greatly improving its carbon footprint.  However this particular beauty could have been mistaken for olive oil, and at less than euro 10 for 5 liters my expectations weren’t high.

Despite my nose being screwed up in anticipation of disappointment, I was in for a very pleasant surprise.  It had a certain easy going charm and a round fruited freshness that perfectly suited my sun lounger and my mood.  It didn’t demand my attention, allowing me to alternately submerge myself in Wilber Smith and the view.  It was the perfect accompaniment rather than the main focus, and was all the better for it.

As the sun dropped my mind rose from its torpor, and so too did my desire for something more challenging, more complex and more thrilling.  A stunning Assyrtiko/Sauvignon Blanc from Ktima Biblia Chora hit that spot perfectly, and matched the intellectual banter around the table.  Ok, well maybe I’m over estimating the conversation, but certainly not the wine!

The beauty of wine is just that; it can be simple, clean and refreshing or it can be complex, intense and lingering, it is simply a case of finding the right moment in time to do that wine justice.

– Alex

Returning to the real world

Firstly, our apologies for being rather uncommunicative winemonkeys lately. Now we are through the exams and done with study and revision for a while we will do our best to update this blog a little more frequently.
So, the exams. Well, the important thing is we survived in more or less one piece. Yes they were tough – exceedingly tough at times – but no-one goes into the MW thinking it will be a walk in the park. As we have to remain anonymous to the examiners we can’t tell you which questions we tackled – or indeed which wines we failed to identify (although there were quite a lot of them), but if you fancy having a look at the exam papers they are available on the MW website –
The results don’t come out until September – which does seem like a ridiculously long way away.  But on the upside that means the summer can unfold ahead of us full of fun and games and no study. Just think of the luxury of reading trashy magazines or a novel instead of another wine book – and drinking a glass of wine for the pleasure and not to analyse every last aspect of it. But first off, a holiday for each of us. Alex is currently sunning herself on a Greek beach and Lenka is off to Amalfi later this week, also to enjoy the sun no doubt. I’m going to Cornwall. Ok, not quite so exotic and, given the summer thus far, unlikely to be very hot – but I’m looking forward to some nice coastal walks and then sitting outside with that trashy chick lit and a glass of something nicely chilled and white.