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Amid all the fuss current fuss about veganism, the vegetarian message can get a bit lost. Maybe it doesn’t seem as extreme or newsworthy and therefore not as valid or relevant to our times. 

As one vegetarian commented to us with a wry smile:

‘Vegan’s great! It’s taken the heat off us veggies…’

So what is vegetarian?

In a nutshell: no meat or fish. 

Or, as the Vegetarian Society puts it:

‘Vegetarians don’t eat products or by-products of slaughter.’

Some vegetarians also don’t eat dairy products and eggs.

It’s worth noting that, while there is detailed legislation on allergens, in the EU there is still no legally binding definition for either ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’. 

Vegetarian drinks

No products from dead animals should be used to make vegetarian drinks.

Sounds a bit weird, we’re aware, but sometimes products are used as processing agents to make certain drinks – like wine or beer.

While the Vegetarian Society refers specifically to food, it also applies to drinks when it states:

‘Vegetarians don’t eat any foods which have been made using processing agents from slaughter.’

So, in the case of fining (or clarifying) agents for example in beer or wine, this rules out products derived from fish (eg isinglass) or animal-derived gelatin. 

However, the likes of albumin (from egg whites) or casein (from milk) can be used. (This is one of the key differentiators between vegan and vegetarian drinks.)

Other than that, the potential issues surrounding manure compost or horses used in vineyards to plough, which can be objectionable for some vegans, again don’t apply here. That said, some composts are made from bone meal or fish emulsion and this can of course be problematic. 

As to where biodynamic wine stands, this is a contentious issue. One of the key tenets of biodynamic practise is the preparation of some composts and vine sprays which require the use of animal organs or cow horns (or sometimes hooves) as ‘sheaths’. Biodynamics guru Rudolph Steiner believed in the ‘astrality’ of animals like cows, capable of harnessing the power of the cosmos. 

While not every biodynamic producer is the same as the next, these practices can understandably be problematic for vegetarians so we would urge caution unless these wines are explicitly vegetarian-friendly. 

And of course this isn’t even to get started on the likes of the glue used on labels or other packaging products. 

There still seems to be a short-sightedness on the part of wine producers, distributors and retailers about all this. All people want is clarity. And this, in turn, should help encourage responsible farming and production methods. It’s a virtuous circle – but wine needs to get on board in more proactive and holistic fashion. 


Click on this link to find some of our favourite vegetarian recipes with drinks matches to boot.

Top Drinks Tips

We’ll be uploading specific recommendations in due course.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for vegetarian logos on certain drinks. While there’s as yet no standardised format for this, some of bigger retailers are doing a decent job (the Co-op deserves a special commendation here).

Alternatively, shop with merchants who specialise in this kind of thing. One new one (which we don’t know yet) is called Wines for Vegetarians and claims to have more wines suitable for vegetarians than any other site in the UK (800, if you’re wondering).

Other wine companies worth looking at include the likes of Vinceremos, Vintage Roots, North South Wines, Les Caves de Pyrene, among others.

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