We recently received a query from a reader who asked: "I had a bottle of Chardonnay that had little crystal globs inside it. It looked kind of strange, and I was afraid to drink it. Although it was an expensive bottle of wine I poured it out. Did I do the right thing?"
Winemakers are faced with many decisions during production. Filtering and fining are two processes that help make wine cleaner and brighter. There are several methods for accomplishing this, including decanting, which you do yourself before drinking. The idea is to separate sediment from the wine.
In addition to making the wine clearer and brighter, there are many reasons to filter or fine wine. Particles in the wine can create aroma or flavor faults as the wine ages. An area of debate among producers, it's also possible to filter out elements beneficial to aging that give the wine additional character, flavor, body and aging potential. Unfiltered and unfined wines are not necessarily inferior or superior to other wines. It becomes a matter of personal taste. We're fans of unfiltered, unfined wines, but we also understand in many situations filtering and/or fining is prudent and beneficial.
One clarifying and preservation process used with white wines is "cold stabilization." In this process the wine is quickly chilled to solidify some of the chemical compounds formed naturally during fermentation. These are "tartrates" and are the "crystal globs" you noticed on the inside of the bottle. These globs are essentially cream of tarter, formed from the tartaric acid and potassium which both occur naturally in grapes. If consumed they're harmless, as is the sediment you'll see on the inside of a bottle of unfiltered red wine. Wine producers sometimes euphemistically use the term "wine diamonds" when referring to these tartrates.
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Cold stabilization is an expensive process. It takes a lot of energy and machinery to reduce the temperature of the wine quickly to preserve it. On the other hand, bacteria could ruin an entire batch, a year's worth of work for a producer. A winemaker wouldn't use this method if he didn't think it necessary.
Does cold stabilization affect the taste of the wine? Yes, no, and maybe. It's a matter much debated by winemakers. In our opinion it probably has minimal effect on flavors of most white wines. Another method of stabilization that wine makers are currently investigating is "electrodialysis." This method uses less energy than cold stabilization and doesn't form the "wine diamonds." It, however, still has a few bugs to be worked out at this time.
Jim and Marie Oskins of Fort Mill live on Lake Wylie. They invite readers to e-mail wine-related questions to winetime@com.
Baked Cajun Shrimp
This spicy dish is easy and will warm you up on a cold winter day.
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs. Cajun seasoning
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbs. honey
1 Tbs. soy sauce
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 ib. uncooked large shrimp, shelled and deveined.
Combine first seven ingredients in a glass baking dish. Mix in shrimp and let marinate in refrigerator for 1 hour. Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees F until shrimp are cooked, about 10 minutes. Serve over rice that has been cooked in water with 2 tsp. Cajun seasonings. Garnish with lemon wedges.
• Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc 2007, Stellenbosch, South Africa --about $25. The spicy shrimp dish above needs a wine with good acidity to neutralize the heat. This well crafted wine will do so. A herbaceous nose gives way to flavors of tropical fruit and pronounced citrus flavors of green apple, lime and grapefruit. Well balanced with crisp acidity.
• Rosa Regale 2006 Sparkling red wine, Strevi, Italy -- about $22. This slightly sweet wine is aromatic with a scent of rose petals. It's made from the Brachetto grape, is dark ruby red in color, and has flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and dark cherry. It's one of the few sparkling wines that pairs well with chocolate, particularly dark chocolate. It makes a great aperitif or dessert wine just right for sharing on a cold February evening.