Ever wonder what exactly is in wine? Yes, you know it has grape juice, some yeast and maybe the grape skins if you’re making red wine. But what else can be in there? Would it be far fetched to think that egg whites, mega purple coloring, gelatin and even water could be in that tasty bottle of Cabernet?
There are plenty of labeling laws when it comes to wine, but no ingredient laws like there are with many other food products. A few wineries have independently started to include an ingredient list on their labels to show how little is needed to make a bottle of wine that can last in a cellar for years and still be delicious.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau in the US and the government authorities in all other wine- producing countries have approved over 60 additives for use in wine. Many wineries use just a few additives in their winemaking programs; others rely on them to make sure their product is consistent and tastes good.
Common additives in wine include cultured yeasts to maintain fermentation, calcium carbonate to stabilize and reduce excess natural acids, and citric acid to correct natural acid deficiencies. Other additives include tartaric acid, tannin, ascorbic acid to maintain color and flavor, and potassium meta-bisulfate to sterilize and preserve wine.
Egg whites have been used for at least 200 years to clarify wines and to moderate the sharp tannins that can make your mouth pucker. In some French wineries it is a common practice to add a half dozen eggs (whites only please) to each barrel. Food grade gelatin is also often used as a fining agent to help make wine bright and clear.
Various gasses are also used during processing to keep the wine fresh and to stay out of contact with oxygen, such as nitrogen and sulfur dioxide. Water is sometimes added when grapes come in from the vineyards overripe. Adding water will dilute sugar concentration and the total acidity of the juice. Less sugar will lower the resulting alcohol levels and produce a better balanced wine.
Sulfites are naturally occurring in wine and can also be added to keep wine fresh. A number of people have allergic reactions to sulfites and need to find wines low in sulfites.
Additives can clearly improve wine by keeping it fresh, clear and tasty. These substances help keep wine quality high and can also improve otherwise marginal wine.
By Barrie Cleveland