Tartrates in Wine Education
by Daniel (Wine Specialist)
Let’s talk about ‘trates, bay-bee. Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be. Let talk abooouut ‘trates... Let’s talk about tartrates!
And let’s talk about our South Lyndale Liquors (SLL) White wine. We made a decision when we came up with the idea to can our own wine. We decided to go with a winemaker that was non-interventionalist. He’s not into chemicals and he is not a fan of filtration. This puts our cans in a lot of categories. And while they don’t say “vegan”, they are (no filtration). They are sustainable because of his farming philosophy, but you won’t see that either. Those kinds of stamps cost the winemaker money and some winemakers would rather just farm responsibly and hope the info is conveyed within the business.
We may have dropped the ball here because our second order of SLL White arrived with wine diamonds or tartrate crystals. Most often a consumer will see these in red wines, but they exist in whites as well. We’d imagine in such a young category, cans, tartrates is a relative “unheard of”.
Image credit Decanter Magazine.
Tartrate crystals are NOT glass
So! What are tartrates. Well, they are not glass shards. Whew. And they are edible (though flavorless). Three main acids exist in wine grapes; malic, citric and tartaric. Tartaric acid is responsible for tartness. Also, responsible for crystals. Malic is often (especially in reds) converted to lactic (creamy) acid. All acids serve a purpose. For the purpose of this blog tartaric acid helps maintain a wine’s PH and protects it from spoilage. But! It doesn’t love staying dissolved.
It is susceptible to temperature fluctuations. Chill one of these wines too much (which is what happened to ours) and the acid solidifies and falls out of the solution. You can see in the image below how this tartrae crystal compares to the size of a dime.
When we consume wine we are drinking tartaric acid in it’s liquefied form. With too much of a temp change, we get crystals. A crystal falling out of a can into a glass or your mouth might be jarring. We understand and apologize for that, but also don’t love the alternative, a wine made with a chemical to assure no solid form.
And remember-wine held at a cool temperature all the way from California to Minnesota is a good thing. It means the wine has been treated well and thus will be fresher when consumed.
May contain wine diamonds
We have collaborated with a local artist and developed a sticker that alerts the buyer to the “diamond”, but understand that not everyone sees everything. We have a third order of cans that just arrived and if the idea of these crystals is unsettling please ask for the wines from that order (they will still be stickered) but we have not encountered any crystals.
All that said we stand by SLL White and non-interventional winemaking.
(adapted form Jordan Winery)
Do tartrates affect the quality of the wine?
No. Actually, the presence of tartrate crystals is viewed by many winemakers, sommeliers and academics as a sign of quality, indicating that the wine was not overprocessed. Wine crystals never impart an unpleasant taste.
How do you identify wine diamonds?
Potassium bitartrate can resemble crystalized sugar granules or crystal shards as they fuse together. They may appear as a powdery white substance at the bottom of a wine bottle. The crystals can also stick to the bottom of the cork.
How can tartrate crystals be avoided?
Delicate white wines that offer a suggestion of new oak, a hint of malolactic fermentation and a moderate approach to cold stabilization should be stored at 55 to 60°F and only chilled down to 45 to 48°F just prior to serving to mitigate the formation of crystals. When possible, wines should not be stored in refrigerators overnight that maintain temperatures lower than 45°F.
How should I serve wine that has tartrate crystals?
If wine diamonds appear on a cork, simply wipe them away with a cloth. If their appearance in a glass is disagreeable to the consumer, decant the last quarter-bottle of wine, leaving any crystals behind. Pouring through a cheesecloth is also acceptable.