What Are Finings?
What on earth does "finings" mean, and what does it have to do with making wine? Well, to help clear up this issue here's an unofficial definition: a fining is a product that you add to a wine or must to alter either its: clarity, color, bouquet and/or flavor. It does so by causing certain elements in the wine or must to collect together and fall-out as a settling.
Some will confuse finings to mean a clarifier. There is some truth to this meaning in the sense that finings can be added to a wine for the purpose of clarification, but there is so much more finings can do than just clarify.
Here is a list of possible reasons why a fining agent might be added to a wine:
- To reduce harsh or bitter flavors.
- To help reduce unwanted aromas
- To strip out browning pigmentation caused by oxidation
- To increase the wine's general stability
- To help along the fall-out of yeast cells after fermentation
- To drop out permanently suspended particles
- To add luster or polish to a wine's appearance
All of the above are effects that certain finings can have on a wine. Some finings may affect a particular wine in just one way while other fining agents may have several different types of effects on a given wine. The situations and solutions can vary greatly.
Should I Be Concerned With Using Finings?
As a home winemaker, using finings is an issue that may or may not need to be address. In the case of using concentrated juices, it is very possible to make a perfectly good wine without the use of any fining agents.
Some package juice producers will provide the correct fining agents for their products. For example, our California Connoisseur, European Select and Legacy brands of ingredient kits come with Bentonite and Isinglass as fining agents.
But, if you are someone that makes wine from fresh grapes or other fruits, it may be to your advantage to become more familiar with fining agents and what they can do for a wine. This is not to say that you should automatically be using finings because you are using fresh fruits, but there may be some situations where you will want to.
How Do Fining Agents Work?
As noted earlier, fining agents affect a wine by taking something out of it. Sometimes those things are visible and result in a visible change in the wine. Other times those things are not so visible, but result in a change in either the flavor or bouquet (aroma) of the wine.
There are two primary ways in which fining agents are able to take elements out of the wine. The most common way is through electrical charges. Certain fining agents will naturally have a positive or negative static charge. When these fining agents are added to a wine they attract particles with an opposite charge and then drag them to the bottom.
The second and less common way a fining agent may work is through absorption. Very simply, these fining agents, when added to a wine, will absorb certain particles like a sponge and then settle to the bottom.
At What Point Should I Add A Fining Agent?
There are three different times that a fining agent might be added to a wine or must:
- After Fermentation:
The most common time a fining agent is added to a wine is right after the fermentation has ended. Fining agents are typically added at this time to accelerate the fall-out of yeast cells (lees) and to reduce any visible particle hazes that may be lingering.
- Before Bottling:
Often finings are added to a wine a few days before bottling. Fining agents are usually added at this time to make minor adjustments to either the wine's color, flavor or bouquet.
- Before Fermentation:
On rare occasions a fining agent will be added before fermentation as a pre-treatment to the juice. This is done to reduce excessive proteins that are anticipated to be a problem later on during the wine making process.
It is important to understand that fining agents may be added at more than one point in the wine making process with any given batch of wine. For example, you may want to add a fining agent to help drop out the yeast cells more quickly right after fermentation and then add a different fining before bottling to help lighten the wine's color.
There also may be times when it is appropriate to add more then one type of fining agent at a given point of the wine making process. Often one fining agent will be added right after another as what's known as a "topping agent." The topping agent is usually added to speed up the fall-out of the grouping of particles (flocculations) that the original fining was able to create.
What Kind Of Finings Are There?
Not any one fining agent is appropriate for all situations. Some fining agents are more effective in reducing harsh flavors while others are more effective in clearing out particles, and so on. Here is a listing of the more commonly recognized fining agents along with a brief profile on how they affect a wine:
Bentonite can be used in any wine as a general clarifier. Effective in dropping out yeast cells and excessive tannin making the wine more stable in warmer storage temperatures. Also used to reduce harshness in the wine's bouquet and to lighten a its color.
Often used as a topping agent to follow Bentonite or used on its own in white and blush wines. Effective in reducing proteins that can caused hazes in lighter wines. Adds brilliance to a wine's appearance.
- Gelatin: (Beverage Settler)
Primarily used in red wines due to the fact that sufficient tannin must be present for it to settle out completely. Very effective in reducing harsh flavors and aromas. Can be used in white wines if an equal part of wine tannin is added at the same time.
- Kieselsol/Chitosan: (Kitosol 40)
These are two fining agents that are quickly becoming more popular. Used together they are extremely fast and effective in clearing and adding polish to a wine's appearance. Neither have been know to effect flavor or bouquet in any noticeable way.
This fining agent is not effective in clearing out heavy cloudiness in a wine. It is used rather as a final polish to a wine. Isinglass is known for its ability to add a higher level of polish to a wine than most other fining agents. This makes it perfect for a last minute finings before bottling.
There are many other fining agents that have been used over the years, but the above listing represents the core of what is being employed today. These fining agents are very simple to use and are very effective in a wide variety of situations.
Find out more about our Fining Agents here.