Tartrates, Cookies, Chemistry and Age

“Waiter, there’s glass in my wine.”

“Oh good for you! You got the diamonds!”

and easily remedied with a judicious repour

Love Snickerdoodles? Thank wine. Love light, fluffy Angel Food cake? Thank wine again. There are many things to praise in the presence of wine, from sacraments to the corrosion of high density lipids.  Since Napoleon’s era, we can add toothsome baked goods to the list.


Unfortunately, it is lost to history who discovered grinding up wine’s tartaric precipitate (tartrates) and adding it to the bread flour, but add it they did, and the world is a better place for it. By the late 18th century, it was common enough in in French cookery to make it a common item in their bakeries – and by the early 19th century it was being mixed with baking soda to make baking powder, as it is today.

Tartrates formed in a half bottle of Sauterne wine.


Tartrates are the crystalline form of wine’s most abundant acidity.  Should the winery wish to filter the tartaric acid out before bottling the wine, all they have to do is turn down the tank temperatures to 45 degrees, or open wintry doors to the barrel room.  Either one works.  The lower temperature squeezes the acidity out of the wine’s chemistry.  


This precipitation, as the chemists call it, takes the form of big chunks in wine vats or as smaller grit in wine bottles. (One will need 6-8 bottles worth, dried and ground, to make a batch of Snickerdoodles.) This grit is flavorless, odorless and has no impact on the resulting wine except that to cold-filter a wine before it is bottled also removes other, desirable flavor characters.  These little bits of grit, most easily photographed in white wine, speak of conscientious winemaking, not careless winemaking.

Red Wine tartrates are easiest to find on the cork.


Red wine sediments are also made of tannins and pigments that polymerize and precipitate out as they become too long to remain in suspension.  In red wine, that process requires years, if not a decade or two to happen.  Tartrates in any color of wine form as quickly as the wine is bottled and chilled, if they have not been previously chilled out at the winery.

Aged tartrate deposits are less well-defined and will cloud easily if disrupted.


The lesson in service is this: old tartrates require slow, gentle decanting to prevent them getting to your guest’s glass; young tartrates or ‘wine diamonds’ are almost as easy to catch as pouring slowly across the shoulders of that Bordeaux bottle, letting them collect there while the wine pours over the top. 


Look for wine bottles with these sediments; the wine you find inside will taste better than its peers – and probably better than any Snickerdoodle.

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