HOME > Chowhound > Wine >


newb question 3 - Additives. better wine thru Chemistry?

I was reading where some vintners add coloring and or alter wines in barrel to "improve" maybe poor grapes. I guess I assumed that wine making was a mostly "natural" process (whatever that means now).

My questions are
1 Are most wines manipulated chemicaly? I mean other than adding sugar or acid.
2 Is added Color a routine thing?
3 Do wine makers have to disclose coloring?
4 Or is this old hat and everyone just assumes this is part of the wine experience?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I think most modern wineries use sulfites to "disinfect" their grape must. They then introduce the yeast(s) of their choosing and go from there. Other than that, I don't think there are any additives, not sugar, not colorants, nada. Color may be altered through storage (time and vessel).
    This, of course is for proper wine. Who knows what kind of stuff goes into the assorted malt beverages out there; I'm sure sugars, colorants, stabalizers, etc etc are only the tip of the malt beverage iceberg...

    1. (as far as I know)
      1. yes and no; the new-school is aiming to do as little as possible manipulation in the winery itself (all work should be done on the grapes themselves); the most common manipulation is to add sugar (Chaptalisation) when the grapes are not mature enough or sulfur to stabilize the wine.
      Large wine corporation want to be able to produce the same quality wine year after year, so they will add sugar or "acid" or sulfur or do microbubbling (micro bullage), revere-osmosis or use custom made yeasts to be able to have a "safe" wine that will be good whatever the quality of the grapes.

      2. No, I don't think so; maybe in real hard-industrialized wine production (cheapo-wino wine http://www.bumwine.com/ :-) )

      3. IMO, They should; at what point wine is wine and not a "wine product"

      4. It is not part of the wine experience; wine (like many products) should be as natural as possible with as little manipulation as possible.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Maximilien

        The coloring agent is something called Mega-Purple.

        1. re: Maximilien

          Please do not take offense, but you seem to making broad statement of fact which -- while they may apply to winemaking in Quebec -- do not universally apply everywhere around the world. (Please refer to my post below.)

          >>> IMO, They should; at what point wine is wine and not a "wine product" <<<

          Perhaps they should, but that is a totally different (and worthwhile) discussion and does not address the OP's questions.

          >>> . . . use custom made yeasts to be able to have a "safe" wine that will be good whatever the quality of the grapes. <<<

          Define "custom made yeasts." Are you referring to genetically modified and/or engineered yeasts? Those indeed would be custom-made. Or are you referring to the addition of a pure (i.e.: single strain) yeast for fermenting the juice/must? These isolates are selected and used *not* for being "able to have a 'safe' wine that will be good whatever the quality of the grapes," but rather to a) have some knowledge and/or expectation of the results, and b) to develop and enhance certain specific qualities in the wine.

          I don't even know what a "safe" wine is, but Rule No. 1 in the world of wine is you cannot make good wine without good grapes, but you can very easily make bad wine from good grapes. At every winery that I have ever worked for or with, the ones that added cultured yeasts did so for specific reasons. I know some wineries that use indigenous yeasts and NEVER have a problem. (Typically these are in a relatively monocultural environment.) Some wineries I know use indigenous years and seemingly ALWAYS have a problem . . .

          One winery I worked for added a number of different yeast strains, but always one strain per fermentation vessel -- be it a barrel or a Macro-Bin. Since each strain reacts differently to the fermentation, we would get (round number from discussion) 10 different wines using 10 different yeasts in 10 different Macro-Bins. *This* one might have fermented on a yeast strain called "Bordeaux Red," and one characteristic might be more pronounced, while *that* one might have been fermented using "Prise de Mousse" or "Bourgovin" or . . . or . . . or . . .

          (But please god, NEVER 71B!)

          Actually, 71B is a great example of a yeast affecting the flavors and qualities of a wine. Bananas!


        2. OK, let's start at the top . . . laws regarding winemaking vary from country-to-country, state-to-state.

          It is ILLEGAL to add sugar to the fermenting juice or must (juice, pulp, skin and seeds) in California. It is, for example, ILLEGAL to add acidity to the fermenting juice or must in France*. That's OK -- if you stop to think about it, rare is the harvest that needs to worry about low sugar levels in California or low acid levels in France.

          There is a significant difference between high-end winemaking and making wine for the jug wine market (speaking here in the US), yet they are governed by the same rules and regulations. That is, there are no regulations that "kick in" if the wine is going to sell for $100+ per 750ml bottle as opposed to $5/gallon.

          Define manipulation. Is the addition of potassium metabisulfite to the grapes as they are being crushed manipulative? Without it, one cannot add a cultured strain of yeast for fermenting the grape sugars into alcohol, and thus turn the juice in to wine. Now one *could* use the naturally occurring indigenous yeasts, and sometimes they work fine . . . but other times, however . . . .

          Is the addition of small amounts of sulfur dioxide manipulative? Even though, without it, most wines would fall apart in the bottle within six months? And even though most finished wines contain significantly less than 30 parts per million of SO2?

          The addition of color (mega purple) or color-fixing enzymes is legal, but -- no! -- not everyone does it. That said, certain winemaking consultants recommend it and it's more widespread than I personally would like. In some jurisdictions, it may be illegal -- I honestly do not know . . .

          No, winemakers do not have to disclose anything.

          It's "old hat" in that people have used sulfur for over 3,000 years. It's new, in that techniques such adding mega purple, using RO or spinning cone are relatively recent developments.

          It's not part of EVERYONE's wine experience. It IS a part of SOME people's wine experience . . . don't presume everyone makes wine that way. It varies from region to region, and from winery to winery *within* that region . . .


          * Although this can vary by decrees issued at harvest time by the INAO.

          6 Replies
          1. re: zin1953

            Just curious, Zin, why can't you introduce a cultured strain of yeast without potassium metabisulfate?
            I would assume you could, but you just aren't sure if that yeast will be the dominant player.

            1. re: porker

              You can, but the indigenous yeast will *also* be at work, and that rather defeats the purpose.

              As I said elsewhere, there are many wineries that use the naturally present yeast with no problems; there are also many wineries which have *always* had problems when using the naturally present / indigenous / "wild" yeast. Adding a cultured yeast can avoid those problems, but only if the naturally present, indigenous yeast is -- uh -- "absent." ;^)


              1. re: zin1953

                "You can, but the indigenous yeast will *also* be at work, and that rather defeats the purpose."
                -thats what I figured, just that the original sounded absolute...

            2. re: zin1953

              Hi, Jason:

              You missed all the "chemicals" in extraction enzymes, mineral supplements, yeast nutrients, MLB nutrients, acidification, chalking, fining, stabilization and the problem fixers. The OP may never drink wine again.


              1. re: kaleokahu

                Wasn't mean to be a complete list . . .

                At least no one is using blood as a fining agent anymore -- not after "Mad Cow" -- even though it was organic . . . .

                1. re: zin1953

                  Hi, Jason:

                  LOL, I know. It's always been about chemistry, even before chemistry was known.

                  No one is using blood or blood products? Hmm, no point in buying feeder steers for next year, then. Too bad, they loved the pomace, got to imbibe once before the... er... fining. Maybe the prions explain my eccentricities.


            3. I'm sort of a noob too, but it was my understanding that sugar is routinely added to champagne. Also, I believe some wines will use fining agents (i.e. egg whites) to clarify wine - not sure if those are disclosed or not.

              2 Replies
              1. re: HunterJay

                Sugar HAS to be added when making Champagne, or there will be no bubbles . . .

                The OP was asking specifically about chemical manipulation -- is the use of egg whites a chemical manipulation? FWIW, egg whites have been used as a fining agent for centuries.

                Define "disclosed." If you mean, does it have to be indicated on the label, then the answer is "no." OTOH, many wines will indicate their cellar treatment on a back label, a website, or in a press release. In other words, even though it may not be mandated on a label, it's rarely a secret . . .

                1. re: zin1953

                  Thanx for replies. This is getting a bit like sausage making. I think I'll stay out of the kitchen so to speak.


              2. One more point . . .

                >>> I guess I assumed that wine making was a mostly "natural" process (whatever that means now). <<<

                Winemaking IS a natural process. You cannot make wine using synthetic means, as with (for example) artificially flavored gelatin.


                Part of this overall discussion reminds me of the "debate" about ingredient labeling in U.S. wine that took place in the 1980s and 1990s.

                The ATF (now TTTB) proposed ingredient labeling for wine. Their proposal was:

                "WINE: grapes, water, sugar, yeast, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative."

                It was then pointed out to the Feds that it is illegal to add water to wine.

                "WINE: grapes, _____, sugar, yeast, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative."

                Next, it was pointed out that it was illegal to add sugar to wines made from V. vinifera (the grapes we use in California, France, Italy, etc., etc.)

                "WINE: grapes, _____, _____, yeast, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative."

                Next, it was pointed out that -- while yeast WAS used to ferment the grape juice/must into wine, there was no actual yeast in the bottle itself. And since people buy brewer's yeast and the like in health food stores for its (supposed) beneficial properties, wouldn't saying that there was yeast in the wine be misleading?

                "WINE: grapes, _____, _____, _____, and sulfur dioxide as a preservative."

                It was at this point that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped up and said that, if there actually was enough SO2 in the wine to act as a preservative, the EPA would be forced to step in and declare the wine unfit for human consumption!

                "WINE: grapes, _____, _____, _____, ___ ______ _______ __ _ ____________."

                ATF gave up on the concept . . .


                3 Replies
                1. re: zin1953

                  Further to your point, you might find these recent blog posts by Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines in Boonville (Mendocino County, California) on trying to get ingredient label approval interesting.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    how odd Melanie,
                    I just bought a case of Pinot from Foursight. three days ago

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      NO ONE understands the ATF/TTTB . . . not even the ATF/TTTB!

                      Two (hopefully) quick stories -- out of dozens one could tell . . .

                      1) When I worked at Louis M. Martini Winery in the late 1970s, we submitted a ***routine*** label approval application -- changing the vintage date ONLY on the front label. All the wording on both the front and back label were identical, we just changed "1974" to "1975" (or maybe it was "1975" to "1976"). We got rejected! ATF bounced it for the BACK label, saying that we could not say (roughly) "Our grapes are grown in Napa and Sonoma Counties" unless we provided the exact percentages. We had one vineyard that straddled the county line, so exact percentages were difficult at best. So we wrote a more bland, less detailed back label that said (roughly) "Our winery is located in St. Helena, the heart of the Napa Valley." ATF bounced it, saying that people would think all our grapes came from St. Helena. So we wrote a very non-descript back label saying little more than "red wine with meat, white wine with fish, unless you prefer it otherwise" and the ATF said OK!

                      2) It's been my experience that -- wherever I worked -- if the AT/TTTB rejects your label approval, you re-submit it with ZERO changes. 95% of the time, the label approval will then be accepted. I don't know if it's because it went to a different inspector-bureaucrat, or wat -- but I swear it worked!


                  2. This is a rather sticky topic, and there's not much black and white to it. Through tasting, I find that I'm preferring those wines generally regarded as hewing to practices of the natural wine movement ... even as I'm at a bit of a loss to define what that means exactly, which practices are truly crucial, etc.

                    However, an absolute lack of chemical fertilizers, herbacides, pesticides in the soil/on the vines is a good start and a rare point of agreement. Natural wine - good wine - simply does not come from poisoned soil. Burgundy learned this the hard way in the 70s. I doubt this statement would raise much objection from anyone.

                    I also find that I'm preferring wines grown without irrigation, from vineyards that do not comprise a "monocrop", and, yes, of soils that may contain the planted horn of an indigenous animal filled with its own dung. I did not expect this to make a difference, and perhaps it doesn't. But I tend to love the wines made this way.

                    Natural yeasts. Many wine-makers I love use only natural yeasts. On the other hand, a wine-writer who I love and who has plenty of "natural wine" cred - namely, Terry Theise - downplays the role of fermenting with natural yeasts. And, truly, I've enjoyed many a wine fermented with commercial yeast strains.

                    Sulfur dioxide. I have only a single bottle in my cellar that's completely unsulfured. I have many wines that are considered low-sulfur from a wide variety of producers (Lapierre, Foillard, Puzelat, Tournelle, Chidaine, etc.). Many of those producers also make unsulfured cuvees, but these are considered too fragile for normal transport. For example, Kermit Lynch imported Lapierre's unsulfured Morgon last year, but only sold it out of his Berkeley store for fear of spoilage.

                    Regionally specific? I tend to prefer wines from the Loire, Beaujolais, the Jura, and other regions that have really jumped on the natural wine bandwagon, and this may also explain why I think the whole natural wine thing is important. It just comes up more in the wines I like to drink. Perhaps I would feel much less strongly if I preferred wines from Tuscany or Australia or Bordeaux. Familiarity can explain much.

                    Finally, there's a very important figure in this movement named Jules Chauvet. His influence is huge on many winemakers I love. Here's a little background on him:

                    Brief bio: http://www.morethanorganic.com/jules-...

                    Philippe Pacalat discussing Chauvet's views re natural yeasts, sulfur, etc: http://chambersstwines.com/Article.as...

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                      You really do have to read that book! ;^)

                      Darlington was talking about Nicholas Joly, Mike Benziger, and John Fetzer -- burying cow horns full of manure in the vineyards, indigenous yeast, filtration, etc., etc. It was priceless!


                      1. re: zin1953

                        they do that at Brick House in Oregon, also.

                        1. re: zin1953

                          I will read that - anything quoting Randall Grahm has to be good!

                          Of course, I've loved just about every wine book I've read, with the most memorable exception being "Wines: Their Sensory Evaluation", a UC-Davis-ish sorta thing with lots of photos of elderly gentlemen in lab coats not enjoying wine very much. It's an older book, but I see in their squinty eyes the sort of mad gleam that leads to roto-fermentators, reverse osmosis machines, micro-oxygenators - even though I'd prefer to blame the Bordelais for all that!

                          Jokery aside, I hope it's clear how important I believe the natural wine movement to be, however difficult that may be to define. And it's not just because I've discovered how much I love the wines of Chauvet's disciples, those of the biodynamic growers, and those who hew to certain preindustrial techniques (think Lopez de Heredia). More than that, it's that the wines from makers that do NOT hew to these practices - and who subject their wine to the most intrusive technologies - leave me cold, uninspired. Paraphrasing Matt Kramer, such wines are as "glossy and insincere as a Ms. America smile". Manufactured, soulless commodities.

                          Often these technologies are used for no greater purpose than product consistency, a way to smooth out the differences naturally created by terroir and vintage. Or to manipulate a tasting profile more in keeping with prevailing commercial or critical preferences. Or because a winemaker simply has a personal vision he wishes to impose. Almost invariably, I dislike these wines. Yes, in the same way I dislike factory/lab-produced or industrially farmed food. But also in the same way I dislike over-manipulated haute or classical cuisine. I prefer the traditional Italian approach to cooking. Nature makes the food and the chef brings it to the table with as little manipulation as possible, allowing it to speak accurately and truthfully of its origins. I find that this is also how I prefer my wine, although this approach can be much more difficult to discern in the glass than on the plate.

                          Let me end with two quotes from Matt Kramer (a fairly conservative wine writer of the Spectator, not one of my wild-eyed, "farm by the stars", Loire valley vignerons): "I once was much more willing to believe what I was told be "forward-thinking" winegrowers. Over the years I've been told about the desirability of using centrifuges, filters, enzymes, fertilizers, anti-rot sprays, mechanical harvesters, vacuum concentrators ... (etc. etc.) ... So now I'm telling you: Most of what I've told has been wrong. Most of these "advances" have been followed by retreats. One of the great ironies of our time is that many of the "improvements" in today's best wines are achieved by returning to practices once derided as outdated: the precepts of organic or biodynamic cultivation; gravity-flow winery design, cultivation of "weeds" between rows, and employing numerous strains of a variety in one vineyard rather than a few selected clones."

                          Again, Kramer (in 2001): "Wine's most profound appeal is its thrill of the wild. It's that Michelangelo-esque fingertip touch between nature and us. If wines lose this birthright expressiveness of place, then they've lost their soul. We, in turn, can quickly forget what the real thing is supposed to taste like. Want proof? Recall (if you can) the taste of real cream compared with today's ubiquitous ultrapasteurized versions. Or real tomatoes. Or real corn compared with our genetically modified "supersweet" varities. We're at a crossroads. The fight for the soul of wine has begun."

                          1. re: Ricardo Malocchio

                            Thanks for all the great information. I'll definitely be referring my customers who are looking for "sulfite -free" wine because their friends said it was "better" to this thread.

                            1. re: BigWoodenSpoon

                              Understand that I certainly *DO* think wine is better without added CO2, but I also see why the realities of wine shipment and storage make completely sans soufre wines very untenable in the wide marketplace. Gads, think about the horrible wine storage conditions at most restaurants, even some wine stores! And even if I trusted the provenance of a certain bottle (say that Lapierre from Kermit Lynch's store), I might wonder if it would age for the long-haul, even in the low temps of my Eurocave!

                              I'm much less understanding of wine that is VINIFIED with SO2 (as opposed to a small amount added to fix and stabilize the finished wine). Here we get back to the issue of the significance of natural yeasts and all that. Winemakers that use commercial strains of yeast add S02 to kill the natural yeasts during picking, crushing, etc., and also use it to end or prevent malo fermentation. Now, we're getting into questions of choice, not necessity, at least as viewed by the natural wine makers.

                              I've never had the opportunity to taste a completely sans soufre Lapierre Morgon, among my favorite wines and producers. Those who have, invariably prefer it. As did Marcel Lapierre himself. Paraphrasing "As though membranes btw myself and the wine had been removed. Like seeing the wine right before your eyes, as opposed to through a slightly dingy window. Rounded and voluptuous vs. squared off and texturally glossed."

                              And please understand that I'm not speaking to any health problems that may or may not be attributable to sulfites. All things being equal, better off without I suppose. But my concerns are almost exclusively about the taste of the wine.

                      2. There is a long-time wine enthusiast who decided a few years ago to start making his own wine. He preferred "natural" wine making. His first vintage was 2007. He has quite candidly discussed all the manipulation that goes into winemaking and his wine is still considered "natural" wine.
                        Also, a lot of places let grapes ripen to a certain level to get the flavors they want. When they ferment the wine, the alcohol is too high. So they send out samples to a company that filters the alcohol down to different levels and sends samples back so they can taste what the wine is like at that alcohol level. A lot of winemakers do this. The company that does the filtering is large. But I don't know of any winemakers that disclose it.

                        1. Read an "Ideal Wine" by David Darlington a relatively recent book. This traces the path of the wine industry in California through chronicling the path of Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Leo McCloskey ex of Ridge and now owner of Enologix. The book shines a light on all the questions you raised and does a good job of presenting the contemporary industry.

                          1. Some wines ARE manipulated, but many are not.

                            It depends on where the wines are made, and by whom, they are made.

                            Many serious winemakers believe that a great wine is made in the vineyard, and try to get the best that they can, from those grapes. Others try to focus on a "house style," and will do (when they can) anything to accomplish that end.

                            I feel that more great wines ARE made in the vineyard, and that the winemaker rather "stands back," and lets the wine "make itself."

                            Do you have any wines in mind?



                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Does malolactic fermentation count as a natual process or is it a manipulation or both? This is mostly concerning California Chardonnay. Not looking to start a fight about buttery oaky, Chards. Just wondering about process.


                              1. re: budnball

                                In a sense -- and without trying to start a fight -- it's both. The original purpose of malolactic fermentation in wine, and white wine in particular, is a) acid reduction, and b) stability in the bottle.

                                As you know, malolactic fermentation (or "malo," or simply "ML" for short) reduces a wine's total acidity be converting malic acid (sharp, tart, crisp) into lactic acid (soft, round, smooth). In a wine like a white Burgundy (Chardonnay), the grapes -- historically -- could be too high in acidity, and so malo would help bring the out-of-balance wine *into* balance.

                                In a place like California, acid levels which are too high is RARELY a problem. California is -- in one sense -- not a good spot for grapes: it's too hot. And since grapes respirate acidity in hot weather (just as people perspire), very often the acidity in a California-grown wine grape will be *lower* (at the same level of ripeness) than the same grape variety in Europe (for example). So your typical California Chardonnay does not "need" to undergo malo the way a white Burgundy might/does. And yet, most California Chardonnays *do* undergo malo -- the higher the price tag, the more likely it is. So if it is unnecessary for the wine's balance, is it manipulation?

                                All this, of course, ignores the fact that sometimes one has to *induce* malolactic, and other times, it will happen on its own . . .

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  No "fight" here.

                                  I agree. I can be either. The winemaker might allow it to just happen, or can introduce it. They should be aware of the natural, should they not wish that, or should plan for it, should they want it.

                                  Many winemakers, that I know and respect, will allow (or plan for) ML, for part of a vintage, but will either stop it, or not introduce it, for the rest - then blend to suit.

                                  Some good US Chard makers eschew ML, while some use it, but with some temperment. It just depends on the wine that they are trying to craft.