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Jul 19, 2011 10:08 AM

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?

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  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 :-) )

      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!