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Tartrates: 30 Year Challenge

As mentioned elsewhere, many elements of wine influence our preference for them: alcohol content, grape variety, oak maturation, various winemaking practices. Here’s a look at one of those practices, what it does and cannot do.

Again, cultural preference influences personal preference. If father or mother had a taste for, and complimentary words for, pickled beets or fermented Brussels sprouts their grown children likely will spend money on them as well. Same for mentors. If your mentor, or editor, says every sentence must contain a verb, chances are every sentence of yours will contain at least one. My mentor loved the Oxford comma, weirdly.

Tartrate is the most abundant acidity in fermented grape juice. Most wineries in the in the New World practice cold filtering to help this particular acidity precipitate out of solution and form the raw version of Cream of Tartar. (Use the dry version to make your homemade bread fluffier or Snickerdoodles at all.)

But cold-filtering also removes other elements from wine simultaneously. Some of these elements contribute to the flavor and texture of the bottled wine so winemakers will opt to not cold filter, leaving all the flavor with those messy remnants of wine chemistry. To be clear, to expect them in our wine is to expect deeper flavor and more characterfully textured wine.

10 year old tartrates in Sauternes

Conversely, to best experience a wine with these “Wine Diamonds”, as the publicists have christened them, filter them out. The gentle pouring into a decanter lets all of the flavenols remain in the wine but thorough enough to leave these heavier sediments in the bottle. In short, there is no enjoyment in the gritty texture they contribute to a sip of wine. Decanting is the preferred method for a number of reasons, but the removing sediment is a prime rationale for the practice. As they age out of their crystalline phase into more of a powdery or blob phase, the decanting requires an even more gentle hand and an illuminating backlight to locate them during the process.

40 year old tartrates in Sauternes

Beyond bottling, they do not contribute complexity to the wine like the sur lie aging in bottles from La Champagne. Tartrates are simply less interactive than yeast lees; old tartrates are simply less crystal and more dust. So cultural preference does not touch the age of tartrates because they are chemically inert by the point of their precipitation.

Nearly all elements of wine have dramatic influence on wine’s flavor but tartrate crystals visually evidence a winemaker dedicated to making the most delicious wine possible.

Taste in wine follows similar cultural lenses through which to grade quality and value. To paint in broad strokes, North Americans have a distinct preference for bolder, brasher impressions of younger wines, wines that are not to their 8th birthday. Great Britain’s inhabitants, at least those who are wealthy enough to travel to the West Coast of the U.S. and drink wine in restaurants, show a marked preference for wines beyond the 8th anniversary of the vintage date on the bottle – often well beyond.

The litmus test is: at what average wine-age will a particular nationality of drinker prefer a wine to the point of ordering a second?

Here’s the analogy. Wine represents an abstraction

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