Fine or not fine?

Fining pinot noir is matter of taste!  Fining is a process in winemaking where winemakers can manipulate the texture or remove faults from the wine usually undertaken just prior to bottling. Wines don’t have to be fined so why intervene? Before I go further I need to declare my own position and explain my personal experience.  I started my own experience from the position of a strong preference for non-intervention but never the less I participated over a decade in ‘fining trials’ where a line-up of wines with various treatments were compared with a control sample of untreated wine. In all but one or two cases, I opted for the untreated wines.  I still have the somewhat simplistic view that if grapes are grown in a suitable terroir and are harvested in a clean and fresh condition, then there will be no need for the winemaker to intervene in this way.

How are wines fined? A fining agent is added to the wine. The agent bonds with certain molecules in the wine (agglomeration) and during later filtration they are removed. This allows certain characteristics (appearance, aromas, texture or flavours) of the wine to be modified. For example, bitterness or astringency may be reduced and a wine softened by using a fining agent.  This can be particularly useful if the wine is required in a ‘drink now’ style.

What are fining agents that are used? There are numerous agents used in various situations. The following have been used traditionally: egg white, milk powder, isinglass (derived from fish swim bladders), chitosan (derived from shell fish), bentonite (clay), gelatin and, in the past, even bull’s blood.  A more modern agent commonly used is PPVP, polyvinyl polypyrrolidone, a synthetic compound.

The fining agents are removed by filtration prior to bottling, however several issues remain!  With some fining agents when removing suspended solids they may strip characteristics of the wine that were obviously not intended to be removed such as colour, body, taste or aroma. While these changes may be subtle, they still have a negative impact on the wine.  There is always a question of whether any residual remains after filtration and makes it through to the bottle.  For most, this may not be a problem but for others such as vegetarians and vegans it presents a potential ethical issue and detracts from the ‘natural’ nature of the product.  Should wines be labelled with a list of fining agents used? At this stage, there is no clear labelling requirement so vegetarians or vegans need to reference several websites that list a limited number of ‘friendly’ wines including http://www.barnivore.com/, http://www.veggiewines.co.uk/ and http://vegans.frommars.org/wine/ .

There is a really interesting discussion of a book which covers this subject at http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2011/12/manipulative-winemaking-declared-a-fault/ .  The book is by Jamie Goode and Sam Harrop MW and is titled “Authentic Wine: Toward Natural and Sustainable Winemaking”. Highly recommended reading.  Again a personal and possibly controversial view but pinot noir is the ultimate in natural wine, highly expressive of its terroir and is best made using non-interventional winemaking.


Leave a Reply