Ask Jim: Do you like your wine sunny side up?

By Jim Chatto
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Leading young winemaker, Jim Chatto

Leading young winemaker, Jim Chatto

 

Dear Jim,

Many wines you buy these days state that they have been fined with Egg Whites or Milk Products. What do they do? Does it change the taste of the wine? Do they stay in the wine?

P Judd
 

Egg Whites and Milk products are traditional fining agents that have been used in winemaking for a very long time. Usually Egg whites for reds and Skim Milk for whites. Winemakers use them to remove phenolic compounds such as tannins and colour and to aid clarification.

Tannins are astringent compounds, they cause your saliva to become less slippery leading to a grippy sensation (think of black tea which can be very tannic). The removal of tannins helps to soften or smooth out the palate. Phenolic compounds are able to interact with oxygen resulting in brown colouration of the wine - quite undesirable. The use of Milk products facilitates the removal of any brown pigmentation greatly improving the wines appearance.

Clarification is also very important and fining agents assist greatly to accelerate the settling or clearing of wines to achieve the level of clarity we all expect in the bottle. All of these benefits occur because the respective proteins involved Albumin (in eggs) and Casein (in milk) bind to the wines phenolic compounds forming an insoluble complex that simply settles to the bottom of the tank. The wine can then be filtered to remove these finings.

Protein finings can affect the taste of the wine in two main ways. Firstly, as an improvement, by removing any undesirable phenolics (as above) and secondly, a slight downside, by removing a small degree of flavour. Therefore it is very important to use only minimal quantities, just enough to achieve the desired result without stripping too much flavour. The winemaker will carry out extensive trials to get that quantity exactly right before fining the wine.

Finings are very different to additives in winemaking. Additives such as the preservative Sulphur Dioxide or the anti oxidant Ascorbic Acid stay in the wine once added, whilst finings are removed when the wine is clarified. However, that said, in Australia it is a legal requirement to state any potential allergens, such as egg whites or milk products, on the label.

Other protein based fining agents commonly used in wine are Isinglass (a protein from fish) and the very familiar Gelatine.

In 1996 I worked in a French winery where blood was used to fine certain wines to achieve similar results - I myself am definitely more comfortable with Eggs and Milk.

 

 

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