One of the most common practices in winemaking comes very near the end of the process. It’s called filtering, and it has both supporters and detractors in the vintner community.
Filtering is one of the tools in a winemaker’s tool box that can be used to bring a beautifully hued wine of great clarity to the marketplace. That’s important because even though a wine that appears slightly cloudy normally has no flaws, it may appear “not right” to the consumer.
When it comes to how a bottle of wine is presented on a retail shelf, and how the wine in the bottle looks, that old saying definitely applies: Appearance is everything.
Let’s take a closer look at the two schools of thought in regard to wine filtration.
Those who do not support use of the process say that it may remove certain natural compounds that contribute to the wine’s aging potential, its strength and its flavor — in a word, its personality.
Vintners who believe strongly that filtration can be harmful often will have the word “Unfiltered” printed on the front label of the wine bottle. They want the world to know that what they are about to taste is what the winemaker intended them to taste.
Those who support the filtering process explain that, over time, it’s possible for an off-flavor to develop in a wine bottle — a flavor that could have been avoided had filtration been undertaken.
Often, commerce plays a role in determining whether a wine undergoes filtration. As one veteran winemaker noted, “You’re much more likely to see an ‘Unfiltered’ wine that’s made in limited quantities — a few hundred cases or less. That way, if something does go wrong in the bottle, the loss is sustainable.
“At the other end of the spectrum” he added, “you’ll never see an ‘Unfiltered’ wine that has production of a few hundred thousand cases. It’s just too much of a risk for a winery to take; if the winery is under-financed, one bad vintage could put it out of business.”