Monday, January 7, 2013

Milk and Fish in Wine? Bleck!

I'm writing this post in response to a number of questions I've had from various friends over the past little while.  Whether they were vegan or on various restricted diets (no eggs, no milk, no gluten), I've been asked about strange little warning labels that appear on some bottles of wine.  For example, one friend was avoiding the Sauvignon Blanc in her refrigerator because this particular bottle of Kim Crawford said "contains: milk, fish" on the back.  She told me she wasn't drinking it, and pointed to the label, at which I furrowed my brow, and said "but it doesn't actually have milk *in* it".  This was not enough to reassure her.

Perhaps this post will not be either, and for anyone who has a milk allergy, my instinct tells me they should certainly avoid such wines that say "contains: milk" on the label.  However, I thought that I would dig into it, and finding an answer, explain it here, with the help of an excellent blog post over at Wine Folly.

So why are there strange animal products listed as being *in* wine sometimes?  After wine has fermented it looks very much like real grape juice, or real apple cider, or a white beer - it's cloudy, murky, and full of bits.  The wine that we buy does not look like this (usually; see Hawk Wakawaka's posts on Orange Wines for the Grand List of Exceptions), and the general public doesn't want it to look like this.  In order to make wine clear and sparkly, winemakers put the wine through processes called fining and clarifying.

It turns out that besides a host of microbial products that are completely vegetarian/vegan, there are egg, milk, and fish products that can be used - and sometimes are - for fining or clarifying the wine.  In response to two specific questions from friends:  egg whites can be used during the fining process to attract and bind suspended particles, and then the entire clump falls to the bottom of the wine barrel; whole milk products, casein, and isinglass (dried swim bladders from fish) are used during fining or clarifying in the same way.  Once the egg, milk, or isinglass falls to the bottom of the barrel with other large hunks of debris, the clear good wine is poured off the top, leaving the sludgy left-overs behind.

There is no fish (or milk, or egg) actually *in* the wine, but it must be the case that in certain jurisdictions - New Zealand as our example - producers are required by law to list any animal products or allergens that have come into contact with their wine.  From an anaphylactic perspective, this totally makes sense.  From a lifestyle-related dietary options perspective, I'm certain that it's still OK to drink this wine.  From an ethically-driven dietary choice perspective, I would guess it's still a problem.

For more information about the wine process and various additives, check out Wine Folly's blog post here.  The part about sulfites not being the culprit of most people's red wine headaches was particularly interesting.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A New Year

Hello friends, let's pour a glass of bubbly
and reminisce
In talking to friends about the coming of the new year, feelings were mixed.  Some people dislike New Year's Eve for the flash and expense of it all and prefer a quiet night, whereas some love to have a big party to ring in the day.  I find myself somewhere in between.  I like to remember that January is named for Janus, the Roman god of change and revolution.  He has two faces, one looking forward to the future with a positive and hopeful attitude, the other looking backward to the past and all that has come before with a sombre, serious expression.  On New Year's Eve especially, I find this image to hold significance.  It's a night for reflection on the past year, and expectation for the year to come.  I suppose that's why New Year's Eve always has a touch of melancholy to it, as we think about the year that has passed us and say goodbye to it.  Sometimes that's easy to do, and sometimes not so much.

I don't always make resolutions, but this year I am.  I was very busy for the last two thirds of 2012, and because of that I had to cut out a number of things that I really enjoy doing, and I didn't get to spend time with people that I wanted to.  My resolution for this year is to be less busy - and by that I mean, to take no courses, TA no courses, and focus on learning more about wine on my own at my leisure; to be a little less planned, and to spontaneously call on friends more often; to free up time on weekends and not let myself be over-committed in advance, so that I have time for brunch, yoga, walking, and sleep; finally, to remind myself about what a romantic I am, and to just go with that more often.

New Year's is rife with tradition and superstition, and I like to partake in both of those.  I'm not superstitious in general, but I find it wise to observe some of the precautions of the past.  For example, my Gran always told me that it was lucky to have money in your wallet and in your pocket at the ringing of midnight, because this would ensure that the coming year would be a good one financially.  It's also lucky if the first person to come to the door in the New Year is a man in a hat.  The money I took care of last night, but the man in the hat is trickier.  No one has rung our doorbell yet this year, so perhaps the mailman will be wearing a toque tomorrow and we'll have our lucky visitor.

Chefydrew approaching the lamb with a dash of pepper and
a pinch of suave

Drew and I have started to make our own traditions at home, and one of these is having a few moments to ourselves at New Year's.  Last night, we made this happen by cooking an elaborate and delicious meal at home, accompanied with delicious champagne.  After collecting all the ingredients at St Lawrence Market, Drew cooked up some fried clam sandwiches with a mayo horseradish sauce (yum), followed by a rack of Ontario lamb in a dijon mustard sauce with ratatouille on the side (yum yum).  All was accompanied with Veuve-Clicquot (yummmm).  We got all gussied up before dinner, put on some jazz, and had a regular fine-dining experience right in the comfort of our own home.  This was followed by trips out to friends' parties, and a very late return.

Rack o' Lamb, cooked to perfection, and ratatouille
Fried clam sammies!  So good, those
little guys

Today we took down the Christmas tree, as per tradition at my parents' house.  I love Christmas trees, and I'm always a bit sad to see them go.  The place where they were standing is definitely a bit more boring when they leave - no doubt there.  All the gifts are away, the wrapping paper is gone, the ribbons folded and stashed.  The holidays are, unfortunately, definitely over.  The last thing to do to celebrate the season and the coming of 2013, is to make and eat bona fide Hogmanay steak pie.  I think my Gran would be proud!

Individual steak pie!  When I get some blackbirds I'll make the big ones, too

Happy New Year from us, to you!  Hope the finest things find you in 2013.