Have you ever had someone tell you that wine isn't vegetarian? Why wouldn't a wine be vegetarian if it's pretty much just grapes?
Well, there are a few fining agents that are derived from animal products. In winemaking, we typically use fining agents to bind with and precipitate out certain particulate, like proteins or astringent tannins. While they don't remain in the wine (they usually drop out or are filtered out), the most stringent of vegetarians may take issue with their use in the first place. In this post, we'll discuss animal-derived fining agents, but be on the lookout for one in which we discuss non-organic fining agents.
These days, egg proteins are added mostly as soluble albumin, but in the past, egg whites were used directly. The purpose of using egg whites is to bind harsh tannins. The egg proteins promote the formation of protein/tannin complexes, which are quite large and drop out of solution naturally.
Similarly to albumin, gelatin is another protein that is used to bind up harsh tannins. When using gelatin, it's often necessary to use protein-binding agent afterward to ensure that all the gelatin is removed from the wine, since any residual can cause a haze. Gelatin is highly reactive and should be used early on if at all, since it can remove color along with tannin.
Perhaps the oddest ingredient of the bunch, isinglass is made from the swim bladders of sturgeon. It is also a protein, and tends to be a gentler fining treatment than gelatin or eggs.
Casein is a milk protein that is commonly used for removing oxidized particles in wine, or the compounds that can cause certain white wines to turn a pinkish color in bottle. It can be used to reduce bitterness, as well, but unlike the other animal-derived fining agents, it is not primarily used for removal of astringent tannnins.
At Aridus, we try not to use these particular fining agents. In 2016 we used a slight amount of gelatin to fine our Malvasia and Muscat juice, as it was slightly more astringent than we would have liked prior to fermentation. We followed up the gelatin addition with silica to remove any remaining gelatin. We racked these wines multiple times prior to bottling, and filtered them as well, so I wouldn't expect any gelatin to have made its way into the bottle.
While it's good to have these on hand for the few times they may be the best choice for wine quality, in general, we aim to utilize non-organic fining agents, like bentonite or specialized tannins. More on those to come!
Like every wine obsessive, there are certain wines I like to pull out for special occasions, and since it's almost my birthday, I thought I'd let you in on what I'll be cheers-ing with this year: Pinot Noir.
I know that now that I'm in Arizona, I should perhaps adapt. and reach for a bottle of our secret, small batch, sparkling Malvasia Bianca... maybe next year. Don't get me wrong-- I love our sparkling Malv, but I'm really in the mood for something simultaneously earthy and ethereal, delicate and powerful. I'm in the mood for a Pinot.
Pinot is probably one of the most ancient grape varieties still in cultivation today, clocking in at something like 2,000 years of age. We can determine this based on the high number of mutations within its genome, and the huge number of parent-offspring relationships it has with other varieties. It has crossed with Gouais Blanc multiple times to create such varieties as Chardonnay, Gamay, and is the grandparent of Teroldego, and even the great-grandparent of Syrah. In addition, it is either the grandparent, or the sibling of Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc-- which is unknown due to a missing genetic link between it and the grape Savagnin that would tell us which was the parent of which.
Pinot grows across the globe, but tends to do best in cooler climates, thus it can be found from its homeland in Northern France's Burgundy, to Russia, to Tasmania, to Patagonia, to Oregon, to the Verde Valley. It has a tendency to bud out early, and can ripen very quickly in hot climates. Its skin is very thin, making is susceptible to various fungal rots, easy to split if the vine takes up too much water, and an easy target for viruses. In short, Pinot is a pain to grow in most climates, and in those where it's not, it tends to taste boring. But when it tastes great, in my opinion, nothing can beat it. Frash berries, cherry cola, roses, black pepper, porcini mushrooms, cedar... the list goes on and on. Pinot is such a delight to sniff and swish.
Luckily, you don't have to wait long for another Pinot bottling from Aridus. This past year we worked with some folks up in Oregon's Willamette Valley to bring in a little Pinot, and we hope to have it bottled in the next few months for release sometime in 2018.
And without further ado, this is what I'll be drinking for my birthday:
Bubbly! Because for all it's beautiful still expressions, Pinot Noir makes a fantastic Champagne. And nothing says celebration like bubbles. I'll save the Burgundy for the Thanksgiving feast.
Ever since Constellation introduced Black Box, wines of all quality levels and price segments have been gaining traction with consumers, retailers, and producers alike. Let's break them down and understand why!
Boxes as a wine package consist of a polyethylene bag with a spout inside a cardboard box. They are meant for wines that should be drunk relatively quickly, generally within three months of packaging. This is because the plastic is semi-permeable, and can break down to contribute off-flavors to the wine.
The benefit is that the bag is flexible and deflates as wine is dispensed, which means that oxygen doesn't enter through the spout. Winemakers need to think about volume of headspace in the bag, since it is never completely filled, and what type of gas is in that headspace. It's usually just whatever is in the environment. Even though the bags can be purged with nitrogen the same way a bottle can, we're much more likely to damage the bag in the process. Additionally,to make the switch to packaging in boxes, wineries need to purchase a new bottling line or contract out services with a winery that already has one.
One nice aspect of a box for marketers and retailers is that it can be interestingly shaped, and there's a lot of space to make the product look interesting, fun, sophisticated, or attention-grabbing in some other way.
One of the blessings of boxed wine can be its downfall— its easy packability. Because wines packaged in box are square or rectangular, there’s less dead space on a pallet. Without glass, though, the wine lacks structural support, so pallets cannot be stacked more than two high. Damage to the boxes during transit can be a huge deterrent to consumers, resulting in unsalable product. After all, damage to the box may or may not represent damage to the wine inside.
There's nothing inherently wrong about drinking boxed wine. They can sometimes represent incredible values. I recommend the Jack Tone Red Blend if you can find it, and in a pinch, Vin Vault will do the trick. Why not give one a try, even if it's not an Aridus wine? You might surprise yourself and find your everyday drinking wine!
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