Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Are eggs used in red wines only, or white and rosé wines also?
—Niki, Tampa, Fla.
For those wondering if they’ve stumbled onto Omelet Spectator by accident, let me explain that egg whites are sometimes used in winemaking. Wine is typically very cloudy by the time it's done fermenting—all those bits of grapes and dead yeast cells (called "lees") end up floating around in suspension. You can try to filter out the solids, or just let the solids that are suspended “precipitate,” or fall to the bottom of a barrel or tank, where you try to leave them. Or you can put the wine through a clarification process called "fining."
In fining, a winemaker introduces a clarifying agent to the wine that attracts and binds to the suspended solids and then settles to the bottom, making it easier to draw the clarified wine off into another container (that process is called "racking"). Egg whites (either in their natural form or a powdered version) are one of the most popular substances used for fining. Other commonly used agents include isinglass (fish bladder), casein (milk protein), gelatin, bentonite clay or seaweed (the latter two are often used in wines that are marketed as "vegan friendly"). Some winemakers also think that the fining process can help reduce astringent or bitter notes.
If you're concerned about allergens, there's no evidence that any of the fining agent is left behind in the wine at the end of the process.
Back to your question: All kinds of wines can be fined with egg whites—red, white or pink. If you’d like to avoid fined wines, you can look for wine labels that note the wine is “unfined and unfiltered”—it’s not required to put that on the label, but some winemakers like to point it out. Or you can contact the winery; many of them include that information on their websites.