Wine Words Demystified: Fining

You know the deal; the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus – Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word/phrase is Fining

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 A process of clarifying wine by adding one or more agents such as gelatin, egg whites, BENTONITE, or ISINGLASS, to wine.  As the clarifying agent slowly settles to the bottom of the container, it carries along with it unwanted particles suspended in the wine. 

Image courtesy of Sparkling Rhiannon

Fining wine is part of the clarification process whereby organic insoluble stuff in the wine like dead yeast cells, phenolic compounds, pieces of grape skin, pulp, stem, etc are removed from the wine.  This is done not only to clarify the wine (especially white wines), but may also be used to adjust the aromas/flavors of the wine.  Fining happens near the end of the process of making wine.

Fining is mostly done for cosmetic reasons.  And the process could happen completely naturally via gravity if the organic compounds are allowed to settle in bottom of the storage vessels the wine is in.  The wine could then be siphoned or “racked off” of the solids in the bottom of storage vessel and moved to a new container.  However, this is a time-consuming process.  Thus fining agents are introduced to accelerate the process.

There are generally two types of fining agents – organic compounds and solid/mineral materials.  The organic compound fining agents are generally animal based stuff like egg-whites, gelatin, or isinglass obtained from the bladders of fish.  This may be a concern if you’re vegan(see my post below for more details about vegan wine), or really care about what details of what’s in your wine.   In terms of solid/mineral materials, bentonite clay is the most common such fining agent used.
For me this begs the question – Why isn’t this disclosed on the wine label?  Because, at least here in the U.S., there’s no requirement to do so.  Some wineries are good about disclosing this kind of information.  Most are not.   If you’re a vegan or otherwise concerned about the fining agents used to clarify wine, ask about how the wine was fined, or look for unfined wines.

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