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Tartrates in your Wine Glass: Do They Matter?

 
Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 at 10:24:44 AM
by Josh F., Wine Enthusiast Companies

tartrates_sm.gifHave you ever taken a nice, white wine out of your cellar and as you reached the bottom of the bottle, noticed there were crystals floating in it? These are tartrate crystals. They are formed when the tartaric acid in your wine combines with the potassium (also found naturally in wine, another one of wine’s many health benefits) under very cold temperature conditions forming the salt, potassium bitartrate. If you’ve ever used cream of tartar in cooking or baking, it is the same substance pulverized into a powder. In fact, these crystals scrapped off of wine barrels are the source for the cream of tartar you buy in the supermarket. Tartrates can be found in red wines as well, but they are more often found mingling with the sediment, and are normally decanted out.

Wineries can and do add a step in processing called cold stabilization. Here, they chill the wine down to near freezing, causing the tartrates to precipitate out. Then they filter the wine to eliminate them.

The higher quality a wine is, the more likely it is to have tartrates. This is because good wines are not cold stabilized, filtered or over processed, in order to preserve the intricacies and subtle character of the wine.

Wine Enthusiast Aerating Funnel with StandIf you’ve ever seen these tartrates, you may have wondered what to do about them. Well, one thing you can do is absolutely nothing. Tartrates are completely tasteless, odorless and harmless, so there’s nothing you really have to do. However, if you don’t like having these little crystals floating at the bottom of your wine glass you can simply decant your white wine as you would an older red using a funnel with a screen. Our own aerating funnel with screen is a great example. It may seem odd to filter a white wine, but that’s the one sure way to eliminate tartrates.

Do tartrates bother you? Leave a comment, and let us know!

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5 Responses to “Tartrates in your Wine Glass: Do They Matter?”

  1. Great post, Josh! Consumer Ed is at the top of importance for most of us in the industry. Unfortunately, it is not always top of mind. Genevieve at Iridesse Wines addressed this at the beginning of the year on the winery blog http://iridessewines.wordpress.com/2008/01/10/tartrates-those-glass-looking-things-at-the-bottom-of-my-chardonnay/.

    The more info that can get into wine consumers’ hands the better. Tartrates are one of those things that so many people don’t know about, but they encounter regularly. Your post will reach many people and further enrich their enjoyment of wine. Kudos and Cheers!

  2. Thanks for your nice comments. Maybe it’s because wine enthusiasts focus so much on red wines that tartrates don’t get discussed more often. I’ll check out Genevieve’s post. I appreciate your input, thanks again.

  3. 3 John Murtaugh said:

    I am in the process of making some vidal white wine and , following some book recommendations, I have just cold stabalized the wine.

    Since the tartrates are tasteless and oderless, do they add anything to the quality, taste or mouthfeel of the wine?

    Thanks

    John

  4. Actually they don’t. From what I know the cold stabilization process is fairly inocuous, though the fear is that the extreme chill can mildly affect the fruit character.

  5. 5 Rev. Carl Bowers said:

    If you are going to the trouble of filtering out tartrates, why not save them? Cream of tartar has many uses in cooking, and at about $4 for a small can it’s not cheap. I suspect that tartrates filtered from wine, then pulverized to mimic commercial cream of tartar, would be quite useful.

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