Christmas tipples

As well as fine food, Christmas is a time for a little alcoholic indulgence too – some more than others! Whether it’s the office party, a friends gathering or the main meal itself, there’s usually a glass or two on offer. But when you’re following a plant-based diet, or have restrictions due to allergies or intolerances, it can create another whole dilemma, as there can be many hidden ingredients in your drink of choice.

So for day 19 of my Sensitive Foodie Advent Calendar, lets have a look at booze!

One of the reasons I started my journey to wellness was to make sure I could drink wine again. That may seem a little shallow, but discovering I had an intolerance to yeast meant that wine was off the menu. And that was very disappointing, but equally a great incentive to make positive changes. It wasn’t that I couldn’t live without wine, it’s just a very social and enjoyable thing. But one of the things I learnt about wine really surprised me – the agents used for fining, or in layman’s terms getting all the gunky fermented leftovers out.

This old blog post explains more, but basically ingredients like milk protein, egg white and isinglass (fish bladders!) are used to filter out the gunk. This means that elements of these are left behind (although some wine makers deny this), creating potential problems for anyone with a intolerance to dairy, egg or fish, or who has chosen to follow a vegan diet. Legislation has meant that labelling is supposed to clearly state what may be lurking in the wine, but this is not as good as it’s supposed to be.

And even if you find one make that seems to be ok, that might only apply for one year’s batch, not another. I realised this whilst browsing the wine in a local supermarket. A particular white wine labelled vegetarian on the shelf, but when I examined the bottle label it contain shellfish. Looking more closely, there were 2016 and 2017 batches next to each other on the shelf. One was with shellfish, the other without. It would have been very easy to pick the wrong one when the shelf label clearly said vegetarian.

Supermarket own brand wines are generally clearly labelled, which is great. The other sure way to ensure no animal product has been near your wine is to choose those clearly labelled vegan. This can be tricky when you’re actually in the supermarket, so do some research before hand on their website. Wine store like Majestic Wine have some useful information about their vegan wines and I’ve found independent wine shops are generally very helpful. Barnivore is still a great resource for getting the right wine and beer (as you can have the same issue here).  If you’re looking for some recommendations, here’s two useful articles that might help –  20 best vegan wines and 10 vegan beers.

What about the expensive stuff, champagne? Although the double fermentation process removes the problem for people with yeast sensitivities, animal products may still be used for fining. But there are well-known brands that are safe to purchase. Check out this great article on champagne, and prepare your credit card for a battering!

Sometimes it’s not the fining that’s the problem, but sulfites. These are produced as a natural by-product of fermentation, so it’s impossible to have completely sulphite-free wine. But extra is often added as a preservative, creating problems for those with a sulphite or nitrite intolerance.  If it’s an allergy then wine is just a no-go area. If a small amount is ok, look for low-sulphite options. Some organic wines fit this bill. Have a look on supermarket websites or Majestic Wine again for options. But remember that sulphites act as a preservative, so will need drinking more quickly. Not often a problem at this time of year!

As for other drinks, most clear spirits are free from animal additives, although I did come across a special Christmas gin infused with wafts of roast turkey! Needless to say, we didn’t buy it. Creamy liquors are not an option though for anyone avoiding dairy products. Good news for Baileys lovers though, as their Bailey’s Almonde is now available in the UK, although it carries a hefty price tag. I will be making my own version again this year – check out this recipe to see how. It may not taste like exactly like the original, but it’s pretty close and delicious.

Whatever your tipple choice this Christmas, please do remember to drink responsibly, particularly if you have a health problem or are taking medication and never if you are the designated driver. The older I get, the less I can tolerate, so it’s important to drink quality rather than quantity!

What’s your favourite tipple? Do let me know, especially if I haven’t mentioned it here. 

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