Some winemakers take great pride in letting the public know that their wines undergo “no fining.”
The main reason cited is that this common and widely accepted practice can strip wine of its “naturalness.” While that’s true to a certain degree, far more vintners utilize the practice than avoid it, and there are several reasons for doing so.
The primary purpose of fining is to clarify wine by removing the various suspended particles that remain following fermentation. These can include dead yeast cells, grape fragments, polymerized tannins, coloring phenols and proteins. Wines that are not fined can be murky and less than appealing in appearance.
But “clarification” is not the only reason for fining. The process also can be used to target and eliminate undesirable odors, to influence the wine’s flavor spectrum, and to enhance the wine’s color.
The most commonly used fining agents perform their tasks by attracting the positively and negatively charged particles in the unclear wine, as the agents also have positive and negative charges. Examples include bentonite (-), Sparkolloid (-), gelatine (+), egg white (+), and silicon dioxide or kieselsol (-).
Most of the time, bentonite and egg whites are used by themselves, but gelatine followed by kieselsol is commonly used to fine white wines.
Egg white—or albumen—is a common fining agent for red wines because it reduces harsher tannins. Some winemakers also believe that it imparts a silky character to the wine. Egg whites are used at the rate of three to four per 25-gallon barrel.
There are numerous fining agents available to winemakers, and it’s important that each be selected and used for its intended purpose. Experienced vintners use lab tests to determine precisely how much of a given agent is needed for a specific procedure.
The ultimate goal is to craft a wine that is true to its variety or varietal mix, and is pleasant to look at, smell and taste—all without stripping the wine of its character or, worse, manipulating it to the point that its uniqueness is lost.
One could say that when vintners use fining, they walk a fine line.