02 September 2009

No Animals Were Harmed in this Blog Post...

...although I did yell at my dog Wolfgang when he tried to steal tofu, so there may have been some emotional distress.

While it should be obvious that I am a committed omnivore with few, if any culinary fears, objections, or taboos, I do respect other personal dietary choices. I've cooked for vegetarians, diabetics, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Catholics during Lent, picky eaters, pregnant women, and girlfriends with rapidly shifting food preferences. I'm cool with whatever, just let me know ahead of time.

Recently a vegan wine showed up for review--the first that I have knowingly tried. Vegan means no animal products or byproducts are involved as ingredients or part of the production. In short, think vegetarian but no eggs, dairy, honey, etc. For a wine, it means that the wine was clarified using bentonite or is simply unfiltered. Most wines and beers are clarified with either egg whites or isinglass*, a gelatin-like substance obtained from the swim bladders of fish.

Since I've fixed a kosher meal with a kosher wine, I thought a vegan meal was in order here. I've cooked vegetarian many times, I even was a vegetarian for part of the 90s. And daily I check on local blogger Justin Burks' site The Chubby Vegetarian, which features lots of mouthwatering non-meat cooking and gorgeous photography. This dinner doesn't come from one of his posts, but his writing has inspired me to think outside of the butcher section.

Vegan cooking takes it up a step, but I was ready for the challenge. A brown rice stir-fry with firm tofu cubes, cremini mushrooms, and assorted vegetables. I really do like tofu when it's prepared properly, and it's also a matter of using the right variety for the right situation. The final dish shown here was quite good, though I needed to add some (vegan!) soy sauce to supply the missing umami flavors.

The wine that started this whole project is the 2007 Thumbprint Cellars Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley of California. $29, 14.3% abv. Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause please for a lovely unoaked Chardonnay that bucks the usual California stereotypes. Great aromas of apricot and pear, with peach and apricot flavors. Big fruit profile, dry and refreshing. There is also a brief, but fun citrus finish that vanishes almost before you can identify it. A wine like this can be pretty versatile when it comes to pairing with food, but I liked the way that it perked up the taste buds against the earthy, savory stir fry.

As I've said with organic and biodynamic wines, these methods alone don't ensure quality. But it seems like if you're paying such close attention to one part of your wine production, there's a good chance that you're investing a lot of time and care into other areas as well. With this wine the vegan status isn't treated as a big deal; the word doesn't appear anywhere on the bottle, and I don't know if there's even an official certification out there. Will this trend grow in the wine world? Only time will tell. Regardless of any dietary or ethical concerns, this is a wonderful white wine that makes you stand up and pay more attention to Chardonnay.

*You almost never hear the word isinglass these days, but it survives in a line from the musical Oklahoma! describing the Surrey with the fringe on top:

"The dashboard's genuine leather,
With isinglass curtains y' can roll right down,
In case there's a change in the weather."

In high school, I did the lighting for 12 shows of Oklahoma! plus countless rehearsals. The lines and lyrics are indelibly etched upon my brain. I fear that sixty years from now the last memories I'll be able to retrieve are in the form of dialogue between Curly and Aunt Eller.


fredric koeppel said...

im trying to imagine you as a vegetarian. great new look for the blog. yer a genius of many sorts.

Benito said...


im trying to imagine you as a vegetarian

Strange but true! Roughly 1994-1996, though I wasn't particularly strict about it, nor did ethics or religion play into any of it. I did learn to find the odd vegetarian treasures around town, like the portabella sandwich at Bosco's and the many wonderful dishes at La Montagne. Lord have mercy, did that place impress beautiful vegetarian college girls, and within walking distance of the campus to boot. (That wasn't why I skipped meat for a while, but it didn't hurt either.)

great new look for the blog

Glad you like it, I felt it was time for a change. I hope you're having a blast in la República Portuguesa! Can't wait to hear about all the interesting foods of Lusitania.


Samantha Dugan said...

I did the vegetarian thing for a couple of years too, mine was ethical...found corn on the inside of a chicken I was preparing...awe. Back then I could not get on board with tofu but now I love it, go figure. That Chardonnay sounds delicious.

Benito said...


I think the quality and variety of tofu has improved a lot over the past ten years. The turning point for me was having some little tofu triangles that were marinated and pan-fried, and were creamy like melted cheese inside.

The wine's worth checking out if you get the chance.