Getting clarity on unfiltered wines |

Getting clarity on unfiltered wines

We expect the wine we pour into our glass will be clear and for the most part, free of sediment. Cloudy wine, or wine with any sort of natural residue in the bottle, either accumulated at the bottom or in the neck, has turned many consumers off on appearances only. On the other hand, many wine aficionados believe a wine with natural sediment has more complexity of flavors and aromas. The cloudiness and sediment remaining in the wine toward the end of the wine-making process is yeast, bacteria or microscopic contaminants, that if left in the wine would continue to grow and alter the wines flavors.Therefore the winemaker will use some sort of clarification method to clear the wine prior to bottling. Like all things in creating a wine, from the soil to the wine-making steps, how a wine is clarified will effect the flavor character of the finished product.There are a number of clarification processes a winemaker may choose to clear the sediment. The simplest and most time consuming method is racking. This method allows the solid matter to slowly fall to the bottom of the wine container. Then the clear wine is gently moved to another container leaving the sediment behind. This type of clarification has some drawbacks for commercial wine-making operations. In addition to time consumption, there is a chance the wine will be exposed to air and lose its freshness, or the sediment will start to decompose releasing unwanted elements that will spoil the wine.Fining is the process of adding a fining agent to the wine that causes the solid matter to clump together and fall to the bottom of the container. Many natural fining agents are used to clear the solids. Egg whites, gelatin, bentonite clay, casein from skim milk and isinglass, a gooey substance obtained from fish bladders are some of the natural agents used in the fining process.A quick and easy to use synthetic polymer, polyvinyl-polypyrrolidone, or PVPP, is used by many big production wineries because it is fast acting and can be recovered and reused. A by-product of the glass industry, Kieselsol, a generic name for aqueous suspensions of silicon dioxide, can also be used as a fining agent. Used mostly on white wines, it adheres to the solids in the bottom of the vat and lightens the color of the wine. After fining, the clear wine is moved to another container leaving the solids and most traces of the fining agent behind at the bottom of the vat. One fining agent the was widely used by old world wine makers up until 1987 was ox blood. The blood was poured into the wine vat and attached itself to the solids, sinking them to the bottom. With the blood ban, winemakers then moved to use albumin extracted from animal blood until the scare of mad cow disease prompted the French government to ban its use in 1997. The use of PVPP doesnt sound that bad after all.Winemakers can also remove impurities by using cold stabilization methods chilling the wine to a point so the solids form crystals and fall to the bottom of the container. This is a costly process, requiring the equipment to refrigerate the wine. The dramatic temperature change does affect the character of the wine.The easiest way of clearing a wine is to pump it through a series of filters. But this is a controversial process in wine making for many. Filtering usually is completed in steps, the first go-through removes the larger solids, then the wine is pumped through smaller mesh filters to remove even more. Filtering can benefit the over-all finished quality of a wine, but over- filtering, and the additional pumping of the juice can also adversely affect the flavors of the wine. Critics believe that pumping wine through a cellulose pad system or metal screens robs the wine of flavor, aromas and true color.Therefore many winemakers opt for bottling unfiltered wines, hoping to present a wine that shows the natural character of the grapes. These wines will be labeled as unfined or unfiltered.Dont forget about this weekends Annual Lake Tahoe Autumn Food and Wine Festival. This stellar fundraising event will benefit the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation. It is a fantastic opportunity to sample some of the best wines available, and taste extraordinary dishes prepared by our countrys best chefs. Call 583-2138 for more info.

Janice Jones is a Truckee resident and wine consultant. You can reach her at

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