May 24, 2011

Unfined *

    A wine that has not been subjected to clarification by the addition of fining materials (e.g. egg whites, gelatine, diatomaceous earth, dry clay powder, and many others).  
Nobody likes cloudy wine, so winemakers sometimes go to great lengths to make their wine crystal clear. During the last stages of production, a wine will “fall bright”, when the majority of grape matter and dead yeast cells drop to the bottom of the tank or barrel. For some wines, this is sufficient to make a crystal clear wine, ready for bottling; others need some help. There are also times when a little problem arises that must be taken care of. Fining is a very old technique that helps rid wine of various unwanted conditions, whether visible, olfactory or tasteable.

Fining materials do their work by attaching to unwanted matter and forcing it to drop out of the wine. The fining materials themselves do not remain in the wine but join the sludge left behind. Fining can be light or aggressive, depending on the material used and the result the winemaker is looking for. A light fining, perhaps with beaten egg whites, is rather standard with red wines. At the other extreme is a wine that went in the wrong direction and then requires a great deal of intervention to salvage it, and there is a long list of options. In either case, fining removes something from the wine, and there are those who believe the wine is the lesser for it -- that fining removes character as easily as it removes other things.

A wine that is unfined has had no extra elements introduced to it. This is reassuring to the vegetarian or vegan who doesn’t want a wine that has had egg, milk, blood, bone, or gelatine in it. Unfined also means that the wine was at its peak without this intervention. The final bonus is that an unfined wine has all the goodness it was born to have – nothing has been removed through fining – and in that case, you are likely to see the word “Unfined” proudly displayed on the bottle label.

May 11, 2011

Table Wine

    1. Wine with no geographic designation, often considered to be the lowest quality available. (Fr: vin du table, It: vino da tavola); 2. An exceptional wine that does not conform to local wine regulations (e.g.“Super Tuscans”); 3. A non-fortified wine *

If it’s not sparkling or syrupy sweet or fortified, then it’s a table wine, according to most wine jurisdictions. In countries that have no appellation systems - the laws that govern the use of place names and set standards for growing and making wine - table wine is a broad category that includes just about everything (with the above noted exceptions). In more formal regions, France being perhaps the best example, a basic table wine is the entry point for decent wine (below that we find ‘vin ordinaire’). These can incorporate any sort of blend and can include bulk wine from other countries. In to order proclaim that a wine is a better quality, it would come entirely from a designated region using approved grapes and vinification techniques. In France, that includes vin de pays (‘wine of the country’), appellation controllĂ©e wines, cru and village wines, and the now somewhat rare VDQS. Now, all of these are technically table wines, but they’ve been lifted above the mare table wine category by reason of their pedigree.

Now, there are those who believe the local rules, while fundamentally well intentioned, are too limiting. Chianti, for example, is a great wine in all its incarnations. But the classic chianti formula calls for five different grapes. The dominant grape is sangiovese, which is a star in its own right. But the traditional chianti formula required a minimum of 15% other grapes, including, at one time, white grapes that contribute little to the mix. One could quietly forget to add the less desirable grapes, but that would invite scandal if discovered. And what if you have a goal that the local laws do not permit? Cabernet is a great grape to add to sangiovese. But if a chianti producer adds cabernet, then the wine can be disqualified as chianti. In that case, the wine would be demoted to mere table wine. For the producer, it’s a gamble and quite a big one. Chianti is a very marketable name, and having that word on the label, along with its guarantee of authenticity, is pretty helpful. But a wine that has flouted both laws and traditions must go it alone.

On the other hand, a wine trades on its uniqueness and demonstrated quality can’t be a bad thing.

* from The Frugal Oenophile's Lexicon of Wine Tasting Terms