Massachusetts Beverage Business



New allergy warnings are appearing on wine labels and many consumers will undoubtedly be surprised to be read that their wine contains milk, eggs or fish. But don’t worry – your wines won’t smell of fish or taste of egg. Rather, these substances can be used during the processing of wine but none actually appear in the finished product. The burden, though, is on the winery to prove there isn’t even the minutest trace of the substance. Since that is difficult, if not impossible, and needs expensive testing, most wineries that use them will just add the warning.

This all begs the question: why are these strange food items even remotely connected to wine production? It’s an age-old practice called fining. After the fermentation and crushing of grapes there is a lot of sediment in the wine. Most will fall to the bottom of the tank to be left behind as wine is pumped off (a process known as racking) but there will still be minute grape particles left. Consumers typically do not like cloudy wine and hundreds of years ago winemakers found that they could clear – or fine – the wine by adding a substance that attracted particles to it. The white of eggs, beaten and added to a barrel, will slowly sink down pulling all the solids to it. That’s why omelets and egg-yolk rich cakes are the traditional food of grape-pickers at harvest time. What those winemakers didn’t know, and science has since proven, is that an electrostatic charge is created so the ball of egg whites attract the microscopic dusts to it. Wine can then be taken out leaving the egg with all the unwanted dirt. Other materials that work in the same way are isinglass, which is made from the swim bladders of sturgeon fish and casein, which is made from milk. Hence wines not using these ingredients may be labeled as suitable for vegetarians or vegans. Mega wineries producing hundreds of thousands of bottle won’t be breaking eggs. They pump wine through very fine filters, but many artisan winemakers say that filtration strips out elements that provide flavor. For the most part, it is the smaller wineries using traditional fining methods and these will be the ones carrying allergen warnings. However, nothing has changed – these are the same wines as before, they just carry new labels. At the end of the day, none of the fining agents will in the wine.

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