glossary

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Fining: A technique for clarifying wine using agents such as bentonite (powdered clay), isinglass (fish bladder), casein (milk protein), gelatin or egg whites, which combine with sediment particles and cause them to settle to the bottom, where they can be easily removed.

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Bitter: Describes one of the four basic tastes (along with sour, salty and sweet). Some grapes—notably Gewürztraminer and Muscat—often have a noticeable bitter edge to their flavors. Bitterness can also be imparted by the use of underripe or green stems during the fermentation and aging processes. If the bitter quality dominates the wine's flavor or aftertaste, it is considered a fault. In sweet wines a trace of bitterness may complement the flavors. In young red wines it can be a warning signal, as bitterness doesn't always dissipate with age. Normally, a fine, mature wine should not be bitter on the palate.

Cloudiness: Lack of clarity to the eye. Fine for old wines with sediment, but it can be a warning signal of protein instability, yeast spoilage or re-fermentation in the bottle in younger wines. Cloudiness may also represent a deliberate choice by the winemaker not to filter a wine.

Grapey: Characterized by simple flavors and aromas associated with fresh table grapes; distinct from the more complex fruit flavors (currant, black cherry, fig or apricot) found in fine wines.

Lees: Sediment—dead yeast cells, grapeseeds, stems, pulp and tartrates (harmless tartaric acid crystals)—remaining in a barrel or tank during and after fermentation. Immediately following fermentation, wine should be racked off of the gross lees, the large particulate matter such as seeds, skins and stems, which are rich in spoilage organisms. The wine may be aged for an extended period on the fine lees, however, in what's called "sur lie" aging. Fine lees, the dead yeast cells leftover from fermentation, can enhance an aging wine with added richness, flavor and aroma complexity, and can also bind with excess tannins.

Élevage: French term for the progression of wine between fermentation and bottling. Comparable to the term "raising" in English; think of élevage as a wine's adolescence or education. The raw fermented juice is shaped during this period into something resembling its final form, through techniques such as barrel aging, filtering and fining. Good winemaking decisions during élevage can help the juice achieve its full potential; bad decisions can leave it flawed.

Kosher Wine: Wine made according to Jewish dietary laws (the kashrut) and certified by rabbinical authorities. Only observant orthodox Jews can handle kosher wine during the winemaking process, including tasks such as racking and drawing samples from barrels. Common fining agents forbidden in the production of kosher wine include casein and isinglass, though the use of egg whites is permitted.

Isinglass: A protein derived from the bladders of sturgeon and other fish and used in the fining process. The protein binds with excess tannins, pulling them from overly harsh wines.

Casein: A dairy-based protein used in the fining process. Casein is particularly effective at clarifying cloudy or off-colored white wines.

Gelatin: The same active gel found in Jell-O, this animal product is used in the fining process to bind with excess tannins so that they may be removed during filtration.

Bentonite: A clay compound used in the fining process of white wines. The clay binds with solids that might otherwise cause a white wine to become cloudy, removing them from the wine, although some molecules that would contribute to the wine's flavor profile are also removed in the process.

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