Mon 3 Aug 2009
I recently received a bottle of the first issue of Cecchi’s Natio Chianti 2007, a wine made from organic grapes certified by CCPB. The front label states, “Product with Grapes from Organic Farming,” while the back label says, “Made with Organic Grapes.” Notice that the phrase “organic wine” is not used. That’s because in order to be called “organic wine” that wine would have to be not only made from certified organic grapes but every step of the winemaking process would have to be certified organic, something that the governments and certifying agencies of the world have not figured out a way to measure and regulate.
It’s not mentioned on either front or back label, but Natio Chianti 2007 is suitable for vegans (and possibly Venusians) because, as the press materials state, “No animal by-products were used in production.” And you, My Readers, are thinking, “Animal by-products? Gack! What in heck-to-Remus are you talking about?”
Allow me to explain. One might assume that wine is completely safe for cuisineophiles of every persuasion, from outright carnivores to the most fragile of picky macrobioticists, but such is not the case. There is more to wine than mere water, alcohol and chemicals. A process in winemaking called “fining” has traditionally employed substances from the animal kingdom (or from the fridge, to be practical about it). After fermentation, wine is usually left with a multiplicity of microscopic elements called colloids. Typically, a wine that offers a plush or viscous texture contains more colloids than a light, more delicate wine; removing colloids can also make a wine astringent, though they lend a wine detail and dimension. Fining, in other words, represents a trade-off in terms of a wine’s character, but the process also clarifies wines and eliminates cloudiness or haze.
Substances used in fining are ancient (relatively speaking) in origin; they include egg whites, milk, isinglass, made from fish bladders, and (not so ancient) bentonite, a form of clay found chiefly in Wyoming. These substances are harmless and are almost completely absent from the finished wine. Each has advantages and disadvantages — bentonite is so absorbent that it can diminish the flavor of a wine — but nobody, on the other hand, is going to buy a bottle of wine that isn’t perfectly clean and clear.
Naturally, the idea that wine may contain a glimmer of a molecule of egg white or milk makes it inappropriate for vegetarians or their more extreme cousins, the vegans. Very few wineries allow this sort of information to be printed on their labels because the it would sound more scary than helpful. An exception is Randall Grahm, owner of Bonny Doon Vineyards, who a couple of years ago, after he took the Ca’ del Solo vineyard biodynamic, began stating on back labels the ingredients in the wine and the substances used to make the wine, including fining agents. I doubt if many (or any) producers will follow his lead, at least until government regulations require such statements, as inevitably they will. Grahm is predictably ahead of the curve.
I asked Jane Kettlewell, director of public relations for Banfi Vintners, whose Excelsior Wine and Spirits division imports the wines of Cecchi, why the vegan opportunity was not explored on labels of Natio. Here is her reply:
“It seems there was very little space indeed for back label copy and the conclusion was that as most wines do at some level have some connection with an animal by-product, that vegans don’t tend to be wine drinkers. This seems like a Catch 22 situation – the vegans won’t find us if they’re not aware of the vegan-friendly nature of this wine, but on the other hand, vegans aren’t stampeding into wine stores to begin with.”
True enough, but I hate to think of vegans not enjoying wine with their tofu enchiladas because of a fear of wine’s supposed animal connection.
And the wine? Well, the Cecchi Natio Chianti 2007 falls into the category of Decent Quaff. We drank the bottle with pizza Saturday night and that sums it up: An enjoyable but not memorable Chianti, a little rustic, but delivering authentic sangiovese scents and flavors of dried fruit, dried flowers and spice in a good structure that balances tannin and acid. A meatloaf, burger, pizza wine. Very Good. About $16. I would be more comfortable if it cost $12 or $13, but everything organic is more expensive. It costs to be natural.