Wine Words Demystified: Racking

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!  Harvest is pretty much done here in Northern California! This will be the last of my harvest focused Wine Words Demystified posts 

This week’s word is Racking..

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

A method of clarifying a wine that has SETTLED by siphoning or pumping off solids and particulate matter, such as yeast cells and bits of grape skins, and pouring it into a different clean barrel.  Racking also aerates a wine. 

Not only is the purpose of the process of racking wine to separate solids adn particulate matter such as lees from wine, it also enables clarification and aids in stabilization.

Racking Wine

Image courtesy of wineormous.com

A racking hose or tubing is used to remove the wine from one vessel to another. The racking process is repeated several times during the aging of wine.

Here’s a video of that shows the racking process - How To Make Wine-Step 2-Racking.

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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.

Wine Words Demystified: Wine Diamonds

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 phrase is Wine Diamonds..

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 Tasteless, odorless, harmless salts of tartaric acid that can precipitate out of a wine that has not been COLD STABILIZED.  Tartrates look like small white snowflakes. 

Wine diamonds in the bottom of a glass of white wine (photo courtesy of melpriestley.com)

Tartrate crystals are also known as “wine diamonds.”   The crystals are formed by the union of naturally occurring tartaric acid (yup..the same stuff that is in cream of tartar used for cooking) and potassium.  The reason you rarely see wine diamonds is that most wineries put their white wines through a process called “cold stabilization”, where the wine is chilled for a couple of weeks at temperatures close to freezing.  This causes the crystals to separate from the wine and stick to the sides of the holding vessel.  Then the wine is filtered and the wine diamonds are removed.  Wine diamonds are naturally occurring and are not considered to be a flaw.
Wine diamonds are completely a cosmetic thing, and don’t affect the flavor, or quality of the wine,  although they can certainly affect the perception of the quality of the wine.  Which is why they are filtered out, so the wineries don’t have to explain it to consumers who can find them disconcerting.   I’ve seen them in the bottom on bottles of white wine (You can’t see them in red wine), but sometimes they are found on the underside of corks.   I once purchased a case of Chardonnay that had wine diamonds at $3/bottle (normally $19).  The wine was just fine!

Does Bill Clinton Also Drink Vegan Wine?

Official White House photo of President Bill C...

Bill Clinton (a.k.a. "Bubba")

It was widely reported last week that Bill Clinton has evolved from Omnivore to Vegan.  That got me wondering if that means he’s now limiting himself to vegan wine  (Here’s an excellent article about vegan wine).  Never hear of vegan wine?  Neither had I until I saw it last month in a winery’s tasting notes.

Thumbprint Cellars Riesling

In a nutshell, vegan wine is wine that is made using no animal derived products.  According to the Vegan Wine Guide:

“Many wines are made using animal-derived ingredients to assist in the processing of the wine. Whilst these ingredients in the main are filtered out of the wine before it is sold, the use of animal ingredients in the creation of the wine makes them unsuitable for consumption by vegans. Typically these ingredients are used as processing aids in the “fining” or filtration part of the winemaking process to help remove solid impurities such as grape skins, stems, pips, to remove the yeast used in the fermentation process or to adjust the tannin levels in certain wines. This is done to end up with a clearer, brighter, better tasting and more presentable wine.”

Animal derived ingredients used as “fining” agents include:

  • Albumin, made from egg whites is the most common fining agent.  It’s typically used for fining red wine. 
  • Gelatin is an animal protein made from the skin and connective tissue of cows and pigs. It may be used to fine either red or white wine. 
  • Isinglass (a.k.a. fish glue) is made from the swim bladders of fish.  It’s found in many German white wines.
  • Casein and potassium caseinate (milk proteins)

Here are several other things to note about producing vegan wines:

  • The fining agents are removed, along with the particles (including bugs!) that make the wine cloudy
  • There are naturally derived fining agents available to winemakers including carbon, algae extracts, and bentonite(clay).
  • Most white wines are fined
  • Albumin, and casein fining agents would be acceptable to vegetarians
  • Looking to enjoy vegan wine, but it’s not labeled as such?  Look for an “unfined” wine.
  • Wineries are not required to disclose on their label which fining agent, if any, is used since it’s removed from the final product.  

It’s also worth noting that organic wine and vegan wines are two different concepts.  Because a wine is organic, doesn’t mean vegan, and vice-versa.  

As for whether or not Bill Clinton also drinks vegan wine?  I don’t know, but it gives me a chance to use Bubba and vegan in the same sentence, just for the fun of it!