Here’s What You Need To Know About Vegan Wine Tasting Leave a comment


Ferdinando Mucerino is the vegan sommelier of the upcoming A Taste of Rescue! Event on May 26 that’s being hosted by Martha Stewart to benefit the Humane Society of the United States. Kitty Block, the president and CEO of the HSUS, is excited to have him on board. She explained, “Vegan wine is a bit of an unknown among wine enthusiasts, which is why we are excited that one of the top sommeliers has lent his expertise to this event. With all the gourmet plant-based food options being offered now, it’s exciting to be able to pair those with great vegan wine.”

There aren’t many vegan sommeliers in the world, and that’s just one of the many special things about Ferdinando Mucerino. Ferdinando, or Ferdy as he is known among wine enthusiasts, is a Court of Master Sommeliers Certified Sommelier. He was named 2019’s Best Wine Director by Wine Enthusiast, and he is a wine program consultant for several restaurants. He answered some of our questions about the upcoming A Taste of Rescue! event, vegan wine, and what you need to know to get the most out of vegan wine tasting.

How did you become involved with the upcoming A Taste of Rescue! virtual wine tasting hosted by Martha Stewart to benefit the Humane Society of the United States?

Being the resident sommelier at DRINKS, means I get to work on numerous projects with various partners, including Martha Stewart Wine Co. One of the most rewarding parts of my work is partnering with charities. Over the past year, DRINKS has run several virtual tasting sessions with charities, helping to increase support for a number of important causes.

What makes this tasting special?

I’d start with the cause. We have an opportunity to directly benefit and help the Humane Society of the United States carry out the very difficult work of rescuing our favorite furry pals. Kitty Block, the Humane Society’s President and CEO, will be co-hosting the event, and she will be sharing some incredible rescue stories from around the globe. Speaking of incredible, Martha Stewart will be hosting the spirited event and sharing invaluable tips on wine and food, and I believe her pooches will also be in attendance! And, of course, there will be wine! I’ve personally selected three delicious wines to taste with the attendees. I’ll make sure to share wine tasting and pairing tips, along with some fun and historical facts about wine.  

What are you excited about sharing with participants?

I really am excited to show people how the world of wine can actually be a lot of fun, interesting, and unpretentious. The tasting will be filled with interesting facts, hard-to-find info that really sticks with you, and I especially love incorporating interesting historical facts. For example, we will be tasting a wonderful Zinfandel and we will explore how this grape’s name and taste evolved from its European beginnings so much so that today it is known as a true California original.  I’m also excited about sharing how to pair the wine with some tasty plant-based dishes. 

Can you share your impressions of the wines chosen for this tasting?

The three wines picked specially for this event, are known as “true to varietal” wines. Wine can be tricky. For example, a Zinfandel can be made as a rosé or as a light red, when traditionally you’d expect a big, bold, and juicy red wine. So the wines we will be tasting are representative of the grape they are made of, and therefore are great for understanding the grape’s benchmark characteristics. All the wines chosen are easy to drink, approachable, crowd pleasing wines.  

What made you choose each wine for the tasting?

First and foremost the wines had to be animal-friendly. I also wanted to choose food-friendly wines, meaning wines that pair with a variety of foods, so that everyone at home could enjoy them with their meal of choice. Of course, the wines also had to be delicious and please a variety of palates. 

Do you have a favorite among them?

Having lived in California for 10 years, it has had an impact on my taste buds, so I’m going to have to go with the Old Vine Zinfandel. I especially love how juicy and smoky it is. It’s a winning combination of aromas and flavors. 

Does the glass shape or size that participants use to taste each wine make a difference?

In a wine tasting, the purpose of different wine sizes and shapes is to enhance the drinking experience by allowing the wine to be exposed to as much oxygen and surface as each wine needs. With that said, I grew up in Italy, where even our finest wines are poured into everyday water glasses. So to conclude, wine can be enjoyed in glasses of all shapes and sizes. Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal preference. Everyone’s palate is different, and the benefits of certain wine glasses vary from person to person.

How can people get the most from this wine tasting and vegan wine tastings in general?

I’d say the approach is the same for any wine tasting. Think of it as a tasting for all the senses and make sure to set any intimidation aside. Approach it as a discovery of what you like and don’t like in a wine. You’ll start with your eyes, looking at the color for clues. Next comes smell, followed by taste. Finally, remember to evaluate the wine. What did you love, not love about it? Also use a tasting as a way to build on your smell memory. I think this approach makes wine tasting more personal, enjoyable, and still allows you to develop wine tasting skills. 

When someone is tasting wine at home, how should they approach the experience? (For example, how much should they pour? How should they get the most out of a wine tasting when each wine is poured into the glass?) 

I’d say keep in mind that when opening a bottle of wine at home, remember that your first sip will always be different from  your last. This is because once the bottle is opened, the wine is exposed to oxygen. Over time new aromas and flavors will have the chance to develop, so to fully enjoy all the layers of a wine, leave yourself enough to enjoy over the course of several hours. To do this, I’d suggest small pours, of about two and a half to three ounces per pour. 

Other than trying to determine whether they like it, what should someone look for when tasting wine?

Pay attention to the dominant elements of a wine. Is the wine full, medium, or light bodied? Is it a high or low acid wine? Is it fruity, tart, earthy, or a combination of these? Does any element overpower the others? 

If someone doesn’t know wine well, yet wants to be able to converse better about wine, what are some terms they should know?

I would learn about body, acid, and tannins. These three elements will tell you almost everything you need to know about a particular wine, and they are building blocks for wine tasting and knowledge in general.

What are the biggest mistakes that vegan wine lovers tend to make when ordering and drinking vegan wine?

I’d say to base their choice on a label. A wine might be vegan and not state in on a label. Make sure to ask your sommelier when in doubt. 

What are some myths about vegan wine that you wish you could banish? What’s the actual truth behind such myths?

I’d say the biggest myth is that vegan wine tastes different than non-vegan wine. In reality, taste does not change. The difference is simply found in the vineyard’s farming and wine-making practices. For example, a vegan vineyard will only use green composting material, which is typically the previous year’s harvest. While a non-vegan vineyard, will traditionally use animal-derived composting materials. 

Beyond Napa Valley, what are some particularly great regions for vegan wine?

The good news is you can find vegan wines all around the world. Not to sound impartial, but Italy is a secret source of vegan wines because most wines are unfined and unfiltered. I’d suggest trying wines from Etna in Sicily, and wines from the Canary Islands in Spain. Both places offer a wide range of wines that will satisfy a wide range of palates.

Where should vegan wine lovers travel for special experiences? 

I will stick with Sicily. Vegans and nature go hand in hand, and Sicily offers fantastic nature, from Mt. Etna, to the sparkling beaches of Taormina. You’ll also be able to visit stunning ancient Greek and Roman ruins while sipping fantastic vegan wines and eating the famous, and vegan, Sicilian Peperonata. 

Do you have any favorite vegan wineries?

For classically made wines, I’d visit Mastroberardino which was founded in 1878 in Campania, Italy, and Querciabella in Tuscany. If you’re looking for something more modern, try Amplify or Brock Cellars in California or Meinklang in Hungary. 

What should people know about choosing vegan wine in general?

It’s important to know that a vegan wine does not taste differently than a non-vegan wine and that not every wine bottle will state that it’s vegan on the label.

What are some ways people can easily tell which wines are vegan if they aren’t labeled?

Look for words like “unfined” and “unfiltered”. That will tell you that the wine was left to self-stabilize and self-fine, instead of using the assistance of fining agents that could be animal derived.

What is your favorite bottle of vegan wine that’s currently available?

All of the wines from Calvari are excellent choices. I’d highly recommend them. They are vegan, organic, and dry farmed. Everybody wins.

On that note, if you could only drink one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be?

I certainly could! My wine of choice would be the Aglianico from Campania. I was raised on it. I love wines with great aging potential. They are worth the wait, and Aglianico can age for over 30 years. 

What makes a wine vegan or not vegan? 

Wines are stabilized and clarified by using fining agents that remove suspended bits of particles, yeast, or proteins. This process removes the “cloudy” appearance of the wine, giving it a clear and vivid look we all love. Non vegan wines use animal derived products as their fining agents. Vegan wines are either left not clarified, or when they are clarified, Bentonite (a natural clay) or activated charcoal is used. Some people may also consider farming and bottling practices when looking for a fully vegan wine. A vegan farm will only use green manure as opposed to animal manure, and they do not use bees wax or any other animal product in their seals or packaging. 

Are some wines vegan but just not labeled that way?

Absolutely. Sometimes a label doesn’t tell all. Again, if the label doesn’t specifically mention that the wine is vegan, look for the words “unfined” and ‘unfiltered”. If those words are also not listed, your sommelier will be happy to help. Another tip is to use social media. A lot of wine makers have an Instagram, or Facebook profile nowadays and they are happy to answer customer questions. 

When traveling and coming across a new winery, what is the politest way to find out whether a wine is vegan? Are there any special rules of etiquette when speaking about wine that vegan wine lovers should keep in mind?

The same rules that apply for vegan food and clothing also apply to vegan wine. So stay away from the gore, and simply ask if the wine is animal-friendly or vegan. 

How did you first discover your love of wine? Were you a vegan at that point?

Being Italian meant that wine was present at most meals. It had a casual presence at the table. My grandfather actually used to make wine for friends and family, and I spent most of my childhood summers helping him. So my love of wine started early. Now, being Italian in the 1980’s also meant that I was not vegan. I did not switch over to a plant-based diet until my thirties. 

Are there any important differences in taste between vegan wine and non-vegan wine? 

Vegan wine does not taste different from non-vegan wine. The difference is simply found in the vineyard’s farming and wine making practices. For example, a vegan vineyard will only use green composting material, which is typically the previous year’s harvest. While a non vegan vineyard, will traditionally use animal derived composting materials. 

What advice would you offer for pairing popular vegan dishes with wine? Are there any special conditions for vegan food pairings with wine?

The pairing suggestions apply equally to vegan and non-vegan wines. You can pair by matching, contrasting, or enhancing the flavor of the food with the flavor of the wine. So the avocado toast from your favorite brunch spot will be a perfect match for a high acid citrusy wine like Vouvray because the flavor profile is complementary. 

What’s the most exquisite possible pairing of vegan food and vegan wine?

Well you’re asking an Italian, so I’ve got to  go with my favorite, a vegan margherita pizza next to a semi sparkling Gragnano from Campania. This dry and tart wine will complement the sweet tangy flavor of the tomato sauce while the acid will pair perfectly with the tomato sauce. The gentle tannins are a perfect match for the richness of the vegan cheese. I also love this because anyone can try it. Buonissimo!

Are there any specific grape varietals that are more often used in vegan than others?

What’s great is that every grape and every wine style can be made vegan. That means you’ll be able to find a vegan option to all your favorite wines. 

What mistakes do restaurants most often make when serving or selecting vegan wine?

I think it’s important for restaurants to understand that veganism or being plant-based is a lifestyle for many. So they need to be just as knowledgeable about the vegan options as they are with the non-vegan options, and the options should be plentiful, rather than just an afterthought. 

Which special or unusual grape varietals do you recommend?

Lately I’ve been intrigued by the grapes of Calabria, Italy. Specifically Magliocco, Gaglioppo, and Vujnu. They are unique to the region of Calabria and the wines made from these grapes have a great sense of terroir and they are rustic, herbaceous, floral, and overall create an unusual and pleasant blend of aromas. 

What is an underrated vegan wine that both novice and experienced wine lovers should try?

As I mentioned in my previous answer, the wines from Calabria are underrated, mostly due to limited production and marketing power. However, I think these wines are about to have their moment, because they aren’t your usual wines and offer a ton of quality and value. 

Do you have a favorite wine memory?

My favorite is actually my first! When I was 5 years old, my grandfather and I made wine together for friends and family. We stomped on the grapes together, like in the famous scene in that I Love Lucy episode. I also learned a lot about patience, while waiting for that juice to turn into wine. It was fun and educational. 

What special considerations do you have when working as a vegan sommelier?

As anyone who’s plant-based knows, you spend a lot of time reading labels. I’ve learned a lot about food, wine, it’s impact on our health, and beyond. Because of my food knowledge, I’m actually able to pair with a larger variety of foods now in a more precise manner, and make sure all taste buds are engaged.  

When should people use the services of a sommelier? 

The goal of a sommelier is to share wine knowledge with the customer so they can have the best dining experience. So don’t be afraid to ask your sommelier a question. We are there to help. If you’re overwhelmed by a wine list, confused about a description, or simply want to try something new, just ask your sommelier. 

What do you like most about being a sommelier? 

I love that I can use wine to connect with people. The Greeks used to gather in an event called symposium which translates to “share the wine” where wine and political/current events were shared. The Romans did the same in what was known as a convivium. Wine is the perfect medium for breaking down barriers, relaxing, and it really can turn your meal into a dining experience.

With the upcoming wine tasting event, what are three fun things that participants will get to experience?

How about drinking wine with Martha Stewart? I love her banter, and I’m sure she will share some awesome tips on food and wine. I’ll also make sure you leave knowing how to pair wine, and feeling more confident about your wine knowledge, especially when it comes to vegan foods. Last but not least, the wine! In previous events people attending would form their own little parties at home while watching. Whether you are a party of one or a party of many, the wine will surely make it an experience. 

What are your tips for how they can get the most from the experience?

We love hearing from past guests. Some people have told us that they turn the event into their own private party or special event, where a couple or a group of people will gather and cheers together with us in their fanciest clothing or their coziest pjs. Having a drink for a good cause is a win-win

To sip along with Ferdinando Mucerino, Martha Stewart, and Kitty Block, on May 26, 2021 for the A Taste of Rescue virtual wine tasting, order the wine. Each wine purchase automatically registers you for the event on Eventbrite.  A portion of each purchase benefits the Humane Society of the United States. Mucerino mentioned that you should order the wines by May 22 for guaranteed delivery before the event.

If you don’t want to order wine, yet still want to attend the event, or if you just want to contribute to this great cause, there’s a pledge page on the HSUS site. Any donation of $25 or more made through the link provided will automatically register you for the event. The event will start on May 26 at 8 p.m. Eastern.



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