The wedding season and summer are nearly here! So now is a great time to learn how to choose a vegan champagne
By Lora O’Brien
Every celebration in life is better with a glass of champers in hand. Valentine’s Day? Cheers! New job? Pop the cork! Got engaged? Cin, cin! But when you’re vegan, it can be difficult to identify brands that appeal to both your lifestyle and values. In fact, when I first went vegan, I had no clue any kind of alcohol could be non-vegan! And as my fellow vegans will agree, it’s not always as simple as checking labels to know how to choose a vegan champagne.
But what else should you look for? We asked Millesima for some tips. This is a family company dedicated to providing exceptional wines and champagnes to their customers, and wow! They taught me a lot.
Basic Facts About Champagne
First off, as I learned from Millesima, Champagne is actually a wine region in Northeastern France. The bubbly sparkling white wine that’s produced there shares its name. In fact, to be dubbed an authentic champagne, the drink must come from the Champagne region of France.
Growers in the Champagne region were trying to create a wine similar to a Burgundy. In fact, they had no intention of creating a new kind of wine at all. The winegrowers of this time were known to be quite competitive as well, so this quest was taken very seriously.
The only problem was that Northeastern France has a very different climate than the Burgundy region. In particular, there’s a much colder winter. Thanks to the colder temperatures, the wine lying in the cellars stopped fermenting. In essence, the yeast cells began to hibernate or sleep.
In the spring, these sleeping cells would awaken again and begin fermenting. This caused the release of carbon dioxide, giving champagne its natural bubbliness. When the growers retrieved the bottles, they were shocked to see that some had exploded. The ones that survived, however, contained a rosy sparkling wine that was delicious and refreshing.
Thus, champagne was born! And yep, it was pink.
Champagne’s Lavish Reputation
Not long after its discovery, champers became synonymous with outlandish celebrations. That was thanks to the King of France at the time, Hugh Capet. He began serving champagne during his lavish official dinners at the Royal Palace. And of course, everyone loved the stuff. After 1715, the Duke of Orleans made champagne a common beverage choice for the rich and famous. And ever since then, it has had a posh rep.
But we can’t talk about the history of champagne without mentioning Dom Perignon. Many people believe the monk discovered champagne before anyone else. While this is still disputed to this day, one thing’s for sure: he discovered the second part of the fermentation process.
Still a recognised name in the industry today, Perignon was one of the first winemakers to actually sell champagne. He was also the first to produce champagne with blue grapes.
Why Isn’t Champagne Always Vegan?
So, how could the delicious bubbles of champagne be non-vegan, I you ask? Well, it’s actually common for champagne to be processed using refining agents that include egg whites, milk proteins and gelatin. If you’ve ever checked a label and not seen these things listed, it’s because they’re only used during production, so they’re not technically included in the final product. Consequently, they’re not required to be listed as an ingredient.
Some champagnes and alcohols may also be filtered with ingredients such as:
- isinglass (fish bladder)
- casein (milk protein)
- gelatin (boiled up animal parts)
- egg whites
If this has given you a funny taste in your mouth, fear not my fellow champers lovers! Though some brands will still make their champagne with some questionable methods and ingredients, there are many brands that don’t use any animal products at any point in their production process. When knowing how to choose a vegan champagne, it’s all about learning what to identify when picking up a bottle, and the brands you can trust.
How To Choose A Vegan Champagne Of Excellence
First up, you should know about the sweetness of champagne. This is different to the sweetness in wine. It comes in the form of a sweetened “dosage” (a mixture of wine and sugar or grape must) that’s added at the end of the second fermentation (the part that makes the bubbles). The dosage is essential because without it, the acidity would be so high, it would be undrinkable.
The levels of sweetness in champagne run from Extra Brut (very ‘dry’, or unsweet), down to Brut, Extra Dry, Dry, Demi, and Doux, the sweetest type. Most champagne is produced at a Brut level of sweetness, which is the ‘gold standard’ for most.
One of the most important factors that plays into the taste of champagne is how long it has been aged.
Aging champagne on “tirage” (on the lees) gives it more bready, toasty, and nutty aromas. These are considered to be the qualities of a truly great champagne.
The best producers, with the nuttiest wines, are known to age their wines on “tirage” for as long as 5–7 years before releasing them. Although tirage time is not usually listed, seeing a vintage on the label is a clue.
What that means is that the bottle has been aged for a minimum of 3 years.
Non-vintage (NV) champagnes are aged for around 15 months, and exist for producers to make a consistent house style each year (regardless of the quality of that year’s harvest). Most NV champagne is fruitier and sweeter than more elegant vintage bubbles.
When learning how to choose a vegan champagne, you need to consider the best grapes.
There are three main grapes used to make champagne. These are: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. For true experts, there are also four much more rare grapes used, too: Arbane, Pinot Blanc, Petite Meslier, and Fromenteau (aka Pinot Gris).
How these grapes are used (or not used) gives us a clue towards the style. If a champagne doesn’t have a specific style listed, you can assume that the producer made a blend of all three grapes in a common blanc (white) style.
Blanc de Blancs
This is a blanc style champagne made with only white grapes. In Champagne, this means the wine is 100% Chardonnay. Blanc de Blancs typically have more lemon and apple fruit flavors.
Blanc de Noirs
This is a blanc style of champagne made with 100% black grapes, such as Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Noirs typically have more strawberry and white raspberry flavors.
This fancy pink style is usually made by blending blanc champagne with a touch of red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier wine.
It boasts berry flavours such as strawberry and raspberry.
How to choose a vegan champagne based on the best producers is obviously something you can find on the label.
There are three main types of producers: Maisons (the big companies, like Dom Perignon), Cooperatives (medium companies, such as Les Pionniers), and Vignerons (artisanal brands, like Gonet-Medeville).
The last and most in-depth discussion about how to choose a vegan champagne relates to where the grapes were grown. There are five main growing regions of champagne, and each is known for some distinct qualities. Sure, there are exceptions to these ‘rules’ below. But for the most part, you’ll find champagne from the various regions will follow these characteristics.
Montagne de Reims
The main grape here is Pinot Noir, which leads to a more full-bodied champagne with richer flavors. The prestigious brand, Krug, uses grapes from the Montagne de Reims.
Vallée de la Marne
The focus in Vallée de la Marne is on the Pinot Meunier grape, which produces earthy, smokey and mushroomy flavors.
Côte des Blancs
This area is best known for its Chardonnay grapes, which are used to create some of the most luxurious single-varietal champagne wines on the market.
Côte de Sézanne
This area has many vineyards, most of which are growing Chardonnay. You’ll mostly find these grapes blended into those from the larger Maisons.
Côte des Bar
This area is mostly planted with Pinot Noir and produces a richer style of Champagne, similar to that of Montagne de Reims.
Because the area is a relative newcomer in making Champagne, it doesn’t have a single Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyard to demarcate its quality. Thus, the Côte des Bar is a great place to look for exceptional value.
As I said, knowing how to choose a vegan champagne may be not that simple. You won’t find many brands explicitly saying they’re vegan, and even if they did, there’s so much more to consider when selecting a bottle of bubbles, as mentioned above.
The first place of reference for me to choose a vegan champagne that I know is 100% cruelty-free is to use an online alcohol checker. For example, the Barnivore Vegan Alcohol Directory is a haven for checking brands in seconds! You literally input a brand and it will let you know whether they’re vegan, doing the hard work for you.
But ultimately, choosing the right vegan champagne for you depends on your taste – and budget!