Excuse me waiter ... there's a fish in my wine.
Have you ever heard such nonsense in your life?
Of course there's no fish in your wine. But there could be traces. It says so on most bottles. And it says there could be traces of egg and milk as well. All this means is additives derived from animal products (casein made from milk, albumen made from egg whites, isinglass made from fish bladders or gelatine from cattle hooves and tendons) could have been used in the fining process, which clarifies the wine without leaving any trace.
Why all the drama then?
Presumably to warn anyone who is allergic to these products, but also to satisfy the needs of those rather odd people with a taste for wine but none for anything remotely associated with animals - vegans and to a lesser degree, vegetarians.
What they look for are wines that have been clarified using an alternative fining agent - bentonite, a sort of clay, for instance - or wines that have gone through a longer settling process and have been cleaned up naturally.
This provides a great niche for winemakers who are prepared to meet vegan and vegetarian requirements and can say so on the label.
The latest and the first winery in the South Island to do so will be Blackenbrook, near Nelson, which announced its 2012 sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris and rose will carry the Vegetarian Society's approved trademark and that next year's gewurztraminer, muscat and chardonnay will be added to this list.
As owner/winemaker Daniel Schwarzenbach says , a lot of people don't realise animal products can be used to fine the young wines, removing bitterness and other unwanted components. "But because our winery is designed for gentle winemaking the wines do not require fining. Our philosophy has always been to let the grapes speak with as little interference as possible."
This puts Daniel and his wife, Ursula, among the less than 5 per cent of New Zealand producers who make vegan and vegetarian wines using accredited practices, but only one of three certified by the Vegetarian Society.
The first was Wrights, a boutique winery run on firm "green" principles by Geoff and Nicola Wright near Gisborne, and the other Moana Park, near Napier, which has always based its reputation on the production of natural and low-allergen wines.
While Wrights is not particularly well-known it has established something of a reputation, and not just among the fusspot foodies, for some of its wide range of wines, including the country's only organic bubbly.
It is also about to release two more under the Natural Wine Company label. Meantime, Moana Park, taken over in 2008 by Dan and Kaylea Barker, has been going gangbusters with an extensive three-tier range of wines that have won a heap of medals on the show circuit and are now widely available.
And before you ask, all these wines, and any others suitable for vegans and vegetarians, match perfectly with meat.
Worth trying, whatever your persuasion:
Moana Park 2011 Estate Merlot Malbec (about $20)
A great value blend of mostly merlot, with malbec and sauvignon blanc to taste, that should find plenty of appeal with those who like a rich, ripe red with plenty of currants, berries and a shake of spice.
Wrights 2011 Reserve Gewurztraminer (about $38)
Those who enjoy one of the varieties that Gisborne is capable of doing best will love this partly botrytised, partly barrel-aged off-dry gewurzt, with its beautiful fragrance and the taste of ginger and spice.
Blackenbrook 2011 Muscat (about $20)
Not officially vegetarian-certified yet, but an interesting example (and the first muscat in the South Island) of the aromatic wines produced by the Schwarzenbachs. Musk, roses, spice. A dangerously drinkable, good-fun tipple.
- © Fairfax NZ News