20 Mar Vegan Champagne
Author and Francophile, Katrina Lawrence uncovers some Top Guilt-Free Sips.
Veganism, it’s true, requires some sacrifice. Perhaps you’ll have to give your it-bag habit the flick (thankfully Stella McCartney does a great faux tote), or ween yourself off your fromage addiction (newsflash: soy cheese is surprisingly tasty). But for those who like the good things in life, one of the best need never be off the menu: champagne or vegan champagne.
Champagne?, you say. Isn’t it just fancied-up grape juice? Well, oui … and sometimes non.
Yes, a lot of magic and science go into the making of sparkling wine. But, in some cases, animal-based additives find their way into the mix, too. This can occur during the fining process of wine or champagne, where a substance might be added to clarify the liquid. “The intervention involves adding a neutral substance, to slowly get rid of any particles in wine, and this stabilises it,” explains Constance Delaire, Oenologist and Brand Ambassador for Champagne Lallier. According to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), some of the fining agents used in the process “to remove protein, yeast, cloudiness, ‘off’ flavours and colourings, and other organic particles” include casein (milk protein), egg white, gelatin and isinglass (extracted from fish bladder).
But an impressive number of champagne houses have chosen to forgo animal-based ingredients. Lallier, for example, opts for a small amount of bentonite. “It’s a natural clay that fixes the proteins of the whites,” explains Delaire. “The clarification with bentonite is done without adding tannin and is therefore more respectful of the liquid.” Other vegan fining agents, notes PETA, include carbon, limestone, kaolin clay, plant casein, silica gel and vegetable plaques. While veganism is a growing dietary and lifestyle trend, even in traditionally meat-loving France, champagne houses that use vegan ingredients in the fining process might have benefits beyond the cruelty-free factor in mind. “We do not want to alter the taste with other fining agents,” notes Delaire. “We want to preserve the taste of the ‘terroir.’” The French word ‘terroir’ refers to the natural environment of a particular region. The term champagne can only be used for a sparkling wine if it hails from the Champagne region of France, a beautiful vine-embossed district to the northeast of Paris. So how to know if your favourite champagne is cruelty-free?
Many champagne houses have publicly confirmed themselves to be vegan-friendly; these include — in addition to Lallier — Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, G.H. Mumm, Lanson, Krug, Nicolas Feuillatte and Moët & Chandon. For Amanda Yallop, Head Sommelier at Sydney’s lauded Quay restaurant, which offers plant-based fine-dining options, “Taittinger is a clear winner” when it comes to her top vegan-friendly French bubbles. She notes that their vegan customers “tend to be hyper-aware of what they eat and drink [and] many of them do know that animal products can be used in the winemaking process.” But as for deciphering a vegan champagne from a non-vegan one, she adds that this can be difficult to do on taste alone. Your best bet is to simply check the label — just as you do when you shop for dark chocolate or vegetable soup. “As potential allergens, egg and milk products have to be declared on the label,” observes Choice Australia. Just be aware that, at present, companies in Australia aren’t required to reveal the use of isinglass — so if you’re still unsure about the vegan credentials of a certain drop, a call or tweet to head office is the best next step.
Road-Test: Five Vegan Champagnes
• Champagne Lallier Grand Rosé. This pretty peach-tinted pink champagne has a gorgeous aroma of stone-fruit nectar and is beautifully piquant, almost savoury on the tongue. This will suit rosé lovers, but also those who don’t traditionally go pink.
• Veuve-Clicquot Brut. This celebrated champagne is festive from the first sight of the famous yellow-orange label. With warm hints of buttery brioche, it’s wonderfully full-bodied and offers a long finish. A party essential.
• Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Brut. Light and easy, with a honey-esque hint and refined bubbles, this is a crowd-pleasing concoction.
• G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut. A gorgeous golden-yellow liquid with a lovely floral-laced fruity aroma, it’s zesty on the tongue and leaves a lingering, slightly sweet aftertaste and dry finish.
• Moët & Chandon Impérial. The bubbles are small but bountiful, making for a fun and fabulous effervescence. With notes of grass on the nose, and a citrus-fresh, subtly cereal palate, this straw-hued champagne will transport your senses to the summery fields of France.
Footnote: Katrina Lawrence is a freelance writer, long-time beauty editor and the author of Paris Dreaming. Published by HarperCollins in November 2017 this whimsically written tome covers her many visits to Paris over several decades, from a small child, to a wide-eyed teenage girl, to a beautiful young woman and now as a wife and mother of two young boys. Steeped in history, interesting and witty anecdotes and fun facts about the City of Lights, with many a glass of Champagne thrown in, Paris Dreaming takes the reader on a stunning journey around what is indeed the world’s most beautiful city! It is available at all good book stores now for around $35. Find out more about her at theparisdreamer.com