This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term.
Fining & Filtration (v.) Winemaking Terms
We Americans like our liquids clear. If we're perfectly honest with ourselves, we might admit that we're obsessed with germs, bacteria, sterilization, and cleanliness. What would you think if you pulled a bottle of white wine you bought six months ago from the back of the fridge only to discover it's a little cloudy? Or when you poured out the last of it, tiny particles resembling shards of glass came with it? You might think the wine went bad. You might think it is unsafe to continue drinking. You might think someone is trying to poison you. Likely all three of those conclusions are false. But it is the American market that has driven wine producers, especially those making large quantities of table wine intended for drinking young, to take extra steps to insure we never get a "bad bottle."
A cloudy wine is not a bad one. The truth behind stabilization and clarification is that more times than not, it is unnecessary, except for placating the marketplace. Thus filtration and fining. Often used in tandem, filtering removes larger particles from the finished wine, fining removes tiny, otherwise soluble bits.
Those particles and bits of grape skin and solids, dead yeast cells and other proteins are kinda floating around, minding their own business. Given enough time, they'd sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, no harm, no foul. It's commonly accepted that not only do those dead yeast cells and phenolics not harm the wine, but they actually help it by contributing more flavor compounds and complexity. This is especially relevant for higher quality wines intended for aging. It's one reason we decant wine. That said, education is expensive and complicated, but running the wine through an industrial filter is, by comparison, not.
Fining takes it a step further and removes even tinier particles that would otherwise, left alone, dissolve themselves and become one with the wine. A common element to become visible if a wine is not fined, are tartrate crystals. These are the shards of glass that aren't actually glass at all, nor do they impart any foul odors, flavors or temper. If you seen them in your wine, don't freak out. Just leave them be. Again, most table wines intended for early drinking will be fined.
When a wine is unfined and unfiltered, that's the winemaker saying, I've made a conscious decision to leave all the good stuff in the wine. Please enjoy.
And now you can.