Fining Agents Such As Milk, Fish And Eggs Can Be in Your Wine – Vegans Be Warned

What do wine and milk have in common? They are both liquids, they both vie for a healthy living, but more importantly one helps the other look and taste better…  How so? Fining agents!

Just this last week, I was in Burgundy France visiting my sweet grandmother who was celebrating her 98th birthday! Needless to say, good food and fine wine was the main course of my stay. The wine was being paired and discussed throughout each course, until we came to a deliciously refreshing Chablis, a dry white burgundy wine. This particular Chablis was a Grand Cru from a well-known French winemaker Louis Jadot. We all looked at the label and to everyone’s surprise, we noticed an interesting mention: “CONTAINS SULPHITES, MILK”

Fining Agents / Louis Jadot LabelSulfites, I get it. Sulfites (also spelled sulphites) is a natural element found in grapes, and it is sometimes added during the winemaking process to stop fermentation. But milk??? Yes, milk. Milk is a fining agent and it is commonly used in winemaking. In fact, it is one of many!

Let’s learn about fining agents…

What Are Fining Agents

Fining agents are extracted from many strange sources and elements you would never think of putting in your wine. They are composed of proteins, minerals, or elements taken from a variety of unlikely places, like the swim bladders of fish, milk, and egg whites. Rest assured that there are also many vegan friendly options, such as using seaweed, volcanic clay, fossils, and activated charcoal. Fining agents are simply enzymes that break down molecules to remove the haze from the wine.

How Fining Agents Work

The majority of fining agents work in two specific ways:

  1. Most of the suspended solids in your must or wine have an electrical charge. Some have a positive charge while others have a negative charge. Many fining agents also have a positive or negative electrical charge. They are added to the must or wine, and almost immediately the particles would begin to be attracted to and bind with the agents of the opposite electrical charge — like a magnet — then become heavy and sink to the bottom of the wine as sediment, leaving the wine clearer.
  2. The other way that some fining agents work is through absorption. The agent may have no electrical charge at all, but has “sponge-like” qualities allowing it to bind with elements in the wine. This new bound mass would then sink to the bottom of the barrel, thus allowing the winemaker to easily filter them out.

When Are Fining Agents Used

Multiple fining agents might be used together, as they all have different fining skills. They might also be added to the wine at different stages of the vinification process. They can be applied to the wine before fermentation begins, after the wine has stabilized, and / or just before bottling. The key is in knowing what needs to be corrected in the must or wine, and knowing what fining agent(s) to use for the job. It is NOT an easy process, and it requires years of experience as well as a deep knowledge of the winemaking industry.

 

As people have become more concerned with the use of these animal-based agents, many winemakers have switched to using the vegan friendly forms, or labeling their bottles when material such as egg whites or milk is still used – Australia and New Zealand even require the labeling by law. Louis Jadot has taken upon himself to mention it on his labels.

Every single wine is fined and continues to evolve after it is bottled. New proteins form, resulting in new sediment. But this evolution takes years and years and is why you typically only encounter sedimentation in older wines.

 

 

Discover more articles about wine labels

“Wine Labels / Message On A Bottle”

“Understanding a Wine Label”

4 Comments

  1. Karl D. Gunter

    Nice concise, informative article about fining agents. I have great interest in all things wine, but have the attention span of a flea. The excellent writing answered questions i didn’t know enough to ask. I like the brightness of some wines (maybe fined?), but i also am intrigued by slightly cloudy wines and taste them more carefully looking for something extra.
    Big Thanks!
    Karl

    1. Thank you for your comment Karl! Most wines are fined these days but like you, I do find some that are a little “cloudy”. There’s an interesting video on YouTube about “soutirage”. Soutirage (aka racking) is the next step after fining the wine. It’s when the winemaker empties the bottom of each barrel to remove the sediment that fell to the bottom. They let it flow until the wine is free of haze and sediment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KRENUa8b-DY

  2. Steve Jacobson

    Twomey Winery in Healdsburg (from the Silver Oak family of wines) uses egg whites for fining their Pinot Noir. The process is quite fascinating… and it certainly makes you wonder, who came up with the original idea of putting egg whites into wine to help filter out the undesirable content?

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