Fining and filtering for red wines: to do or not to do?
Being a winemaker engages your responsibility on the quality of your wine, from the harvest to the bottling. Wine will be kept in bottle as you have made it but, when a customer choose and buy your bottle, he is expecting to enjoy the wine.
Concerning fining and filtering, we can decide to do it or not, depending on our convictions or traditions. Some winemakers never want to apply fining or filtering, convinced that the wine is always better without the use of these technics, others always do it in order to avoid any risk afterwards. In fact, decision is not easy to take and I am going to give you my point of view about.
The best is to find the right solution for the wine, following its display (presentation), its tasting and analysis. Before doing the bottling, you have to check how your wine is by asking you the following questions:
1) Are you sure that the wine is ready for bottling?
2) Does it correspond to what was expected?
3) Is it fine for the market (does it correspond to what the customer is waiting for) ?
Answers to these points can be found with good sense and smart thinking.
Regarding point N°1, we can consider that the wine is ready for bottling if it looks clear and well presented on the eyes, nose and palate. Basically, it means: colour has to be bright, smell has to be clean and taste has to be “drinkable”. These parameters can be linked all together. Turbidity analysis leads to the understanding, but usually it is a necessary condition (but not-sufficient) for taking decision about fining and / or filtering.
Wine tasting is of course very important to answer at N°2 (it concerns fining). Nevertheless, you have also to be attentive to the microbiology content, which characterizes the health of the wine and the ability to age safely in bottle: yeasts still alive, Brettanomyces and bacteria (lactic and acetic). Then, depending on the results, you can choose between fining or filtering, or both.
Regarding fining, purposes to do it can be among the following: clarification of the wine, improvement of the end of taste (to get tannins less aggressive, to reduce vegetal character or bitterness…), providing better length and softness on aftertaste, in addition with the elimination of a number of micro-organisms (decreasing by 10³ the level of contamination), then getting a more stable wine afterwards. In any case, your choice will be well determined if you do trials with different types of products, according to the characteristics of your wine, and, for each product, several doses applied for tasting. Set apart press wines or identified problem to take out from one of the wines which has to be blended with others, fining is better after blending due to the synergy between all the wines together.
However, my experience alongside Michel ROLLAND learnt me that fining can be sometimes avoided thanks to blending skill. Wines can have a good attack on the palate and an excellent finish but lack something in the mid-palate. Just by blending few percentages of a full-bodied wine into the main blend, it is possible to get fullness in the middle and then final wine can be complete and balanced.
Concerning filtering, it has to be able to reduce the quantity of sediments into the wine and to take out micro-organisms according to the strength of the filtration. Impact and effects on the wine after filtering can be good or bad. If the wine has been under fining, turbidity and microbiology measurements have to be controlled before taking filtering decision in order to choose the best solution for the wine. As you know everything takes time, so you have to organize your work for not being in rush (trials, racking, rest of the wine, analysis). Type of filtering process can strongly influence the wine tasting afterwards. Today, efficiency of the method is also associated with the volume of wine required by the filtering (lost); therefore, tangential filtration is more and more used.
Other technics like pasteurization can substitute filtration, but it also depends on the clearness of the wine before bottling. In some cases, when microbiology is right (no Brettanomyces inside and standard level of yeast and bacteria), two racking after fining can give good result and afford a bottling without filtering.
Do not forget to check other important analysis like Sulphure dioxide (free and total), acidity (acetic acid and pH) and Carbon dioxide remaining, dissolved oxygen, which have to be taken into account before and during bottling process.
Point N°3 which is based on customer approach can find responses following all the details above. Actually, there is no recipe but there are rules to follow to make wine properly. Many wines which are not enough clear and bright on the eye presents by the way a dusty smell on the nose which covers the fruit. Moreover, it can also be found on aftertaste, loosing quality and precision. Finally, we have to think about the customer who is going to purchase the bottle for sharing a glass of wine with friends. Even if they are connoisseur, they don’t accept to find lots of sediment in the last glass, neither concerning expensive great wines, nor others. The one who gets it in his glass can’t enjoy it; will you do?
So, be responsible, do what has to be done for your wine, review all the details above in order to take the right decision, and never forget the customer who is going to drink your wine in the end.