The Ultimate Guide To Wine Making Additives & Chemicals

Informational

Chemists in a laboratory testing red wine

Table of Contents

Are you wondering what wine making additives to use in your homemade wine? Or maybe you just want to know the wine’s components and chemicals. We will tackle all these winemaking questions in this article.

There are two main types of wine making additives - common and corrective. Common additives help ease the process, while corrective additives help fix the errors when making wine.

We listed the most common wine additives you might find in wine making guides to help you determine which one suits you best.

Wine Making Additives and Chemicals

There are various wine additives, but they can be grouped into Common Additives and Corrective Additives. Here are the different kinds of winemaking additives and their examples.

Common Wine Additives

These are wine additives that help with the standard winemaking process.

1. Antiseptic and Antioxidants

Antiseptic and Antioxidants are added at the beginning, middle, and end of the wine fermentation process. The most common example of this is sulfites. Other examples are the following:

Sulfite

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is the most popular additive used by winemakers. It acts as a preservative by preventing the evolution of wine into vinegar.

Sulfite also stops the oxidation and deterioration of wine’s aroma while getting rid of unwanted yeast and bacteria in the process.

Sulfites can sanitize equipment and can be added to various points of winemaking, including:

  • Harvesting - Harvested grapes may be sprinkled or sprayed with sulfite before being brought to the winery.
  • Crushing - Sulfites can prevent the fermentation of wine with naturally occurring yeasts or ambient yeasts.
  • Fermentation - Winemakers use sulfites to stop the fermentation when they want.
  • Bottling - Sulfites can extend the shelf life of wine by not allowing the alcoholic beverage to interact with oxygen.

Usually, wine has 150 parts per million (ppm) of sulfites. However, about 1% of the population is sensitive to sulfur. That’s why American wine producers are required to declare if the sulfite in their wine exceeds 10 ppm. The EU also has a similar law.

2. Fermentation Nutrients Black yeast dough on a dark wooden table

These wine additives help the yeast with the fermentation process. Examples are:

Yeast

Yeast is a eukaryotic microorganism necessary for the winemaking process, converting the grapes’ sugar into alcohol during fermentation. 

There are two kinds of yeasts used in winemaking: ambient and cultured. It is essential to consider that each type of yeast has its distinct benefits depending on the variety of wine.

Ambient yeasts are naturally occurring yeasts that can be found everywhere. Some winemakers use them in their wine production, but most of them don’t. 

It is because not all ambient yeasts work at the same pace or produce the desired result. That’s why winemakers use sulfites to get rid of ambient yeasts, and then they add cultured yeasts so that the wine can have the desired textures and flavors.

Most winemakers prefer cultured yeasts because they act predictably and reliably. They also get the job done by ensuring the same results for different batches of wine. 

Thiamine

Thiamine Hydrochloride or Vitamin B1 is used as a wine making additive to keep the yeast alive during the fermentation process. It is typically added to wines with an alcohol concentration that is above 14%.

3. Organoleptic Additives

These are additives that can be used to alter the wine’s taste and flavor profile. Examples are:

Lactic Acid BacteriaMan studying bacteria

Do you know the saying, “Not all bacteria are bad”? Well, this is an example of a good bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria (LAB) are added to wines when they have high acidity. 

Winemakers also use them to convert tart malic acid in grapes to lactic acid, giving the wine a softer mouthfeel. This good bacteria also stabilizes the alcoholic beverage so that it won’t turn into vinegar.

Lactic acid bacteria are used on almost all red wines and a few full-bodied white wines such as Chardonnay. You can also find these probiotic organisms in milk.

4. Fining and Clarification Additives

These common additives make wine clear by removing its cloudiness. Through fining, the substance binds to the unwanted components so winemakers can filter them out. 

However, it is a potential reason for gluten contamination because the fining agent used might contain gluten. This substance is known to affect people with celiac disease and those under a gluten-free diet.

 Here are the wine additives used in fining and clarification:

Tannins

Tannins are one of the reasons why wine ages well. They contribute to the alcoholic beverage’s flavor, texture, and body. 

Tannins are naturally found in grape seeds, skins, and stems. They are also in wine barrels produced from certain woods, an example of which is oak wood.

This organic substance also acts as a preservative because it prevents wine and oxygen from reacting. Tannins must be added to white wines because white grapes are fermented with their skins removed.

Tannins are available in all red wines because the skin of red grapes is not removed during fermentation. However, additional tannins are mixed with red wines to enhance their color, flavor, and body. 

This substance gives the tongue a sharp and astringent sensation and a dry sensation on the sides of the mouth.

Bentonite

Bentonite is a top-rated fining agent in winemaking. It is an aluminum-silicate clay that is very different from other clays because it is made from volcanic ash. 

Bentonite is a negatively charged clay colloid that interacts with positively charged proteins to precipitate them from white wine and juice. Because of its ability to lessen color by adsorption of anthocyanins, the usage of bentonite in red wines must be limited.

FiltrationBowl of charcoal

Wine filtering is another way of eliminating microorganisms to polish the wine before bottling. It also removes sediments and can be used to clarify the alcoholic beverage. The primary examples of wine filtration are:

  • Flash Pasteurization
  • Crossflow Microfiltration
  • Charcoal filtration

Flash Pasteurization

In this process, wine is heated and cooled quickly inside a heat exchanger. It is an effective way to remove the bacteria, but it also affects the wine’s aromas.

Crossflow Microfiltration

In this method, the wine flows parallel to the surface of the membrane. The salts and

solutes move through the membrane through a pressure drop.

Crossflow microfiltration also eliminates the health and environmental issues caused by the removal of diatomaceous earth.

Another advantage is the combination of stabilization, clarification, and sterile filtration in a single continuous unit, without sacrificing the sensory qualities of the wine.

Charcoal Filtration

The activated carbons in the filter will absorb the foul odors and harmful molecules to prevent the wine from losing its flavors and contamination. Change the charcoal filter regularly to obtain the best results.

5. Stabilization Additives

Stabilization helps preserve the wine’s quality during aging and storage, such as cold stabilization and electrodialysis. Here are the examples of wine additives used in this process:

  • Yeast Mannoproteins
  • Potassium Hydrogen Tartrate
  • Metatartaric Acid
  • Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC)
  • Dimethyl dicarbonate (DMDC)
  • Potassium Sorbate
  • Acetaldehyde

Cold Stabilization

This process is used to separate unstable ionic salts (such as calcium: Ca2+, bitartrate: HT-, and potassium: K+) from wine.

Cold stability is performed after fermentation but before bottling to stop the precipitation of the tartaric salt, bitartrate (HT-), when the wine is stored or cooled after bottling.

Electrodialysis

Cold stabilization can be replaced with electrodialysis (ED), which is a more energy-efficient process. 

In this method, the alcoholic beverage is passed through an electrical field. As the wine moves through anionic and cationic membranes, the charged ions are extracted. 

The wine is then circulated via the ED unit from bulk storage tanks until the target conductivity levels are reached.

Dimethyl Dicarbonate

Dimethyl dicarbonate (DMDC), also known as velcorin, is used to stabilize, sterilize, and dealcoholize wine. Its use has been approved in the U.S., EU, and Australia.

DMDC is toxic within an hour of being applied (usually during bottling), and it takes about half an hour to hydrolyze. Besides wine, DMDC is also used in Gatorade, orange juice, and flavored iced tea.

Potassium Sorbate

This wine stabilizer slows down yeast growth and prevents it from reacting with sweeteners added to the alcoholic beverage when the initial fermentation is completed. It is typically added before the bottling of wine to prevent it from refermenting. 

When the winemaker decides to use potassium sorbate, sulfite should be added with it because geraniol might form. You can also find this compound in Geraniums, a type of flowering plant that can keep mosquitoes away due to its scent.

So, if you don’t want your wine to smell like an insect repellant, be sure to follow your wine making guide properly.

Acetaldehyde

Acetaldehyde is a wine additive used to stabilize the color of the juice before concentration. The quantity used must not be greater than 300 ppm, and it must not be visible in the finished concentrate.

This organic chemical compound is a regular occurrence in grapes, but it is toxic and must be utilized carefully.

Corrective Wine Additives

These are additives that help solve problems in the winemaking process.

1. Polyphenol Additives

These winemaking additives are used to stabilize color and reduce astringency. Examples are:

  • Gum Arabic
  • Potassium Caseinate
  • Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP)

Gum Arabic

Gum Arabic softens the tannins to help lessen the wines' astringency. Tannins, on the other hand, will bind to these crystals and alter the wine's flavor. This corrective additive also aids in the wine's microbiological stability. That’s why it is best used after the microfiltration process.

Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone (PVPP)

Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone is a widely used fining agent to remove low-molecular-weight phenolics. In both white and red wines, it extracts bitter compounds and browning precursors through adsorption.

2. Copper Sulfate

Rotten eggs

These wine making additives are used to correct foul odors and tastes from hydrogen sulfide and its derivatives. Examples are:

Due to errors during winemaking, some wines may end up having a scent similar to rotten eggs because of the presence of hydrogen sulfide. 

Since copper sulfate is toxic, only a minimal amount is added to counter the hydrogen sulfide in wine.

3. Enrichment or Sweeteners

These corrective wine additives are added when the grapes do not have enough sweetness. The longest-lived wines have high sugar levels, such as some fortified wines (like Sherry and Port), Riesling, and Sauternes.

Examples of enrichments are:

  • Sugar (Chaptalization)
  • Reverse Osmosis
  • Concentrated Grape Must
  • Evaporative Enrichment

Sugar Bowl of sugar with sugar cubes

In regions with cool climates, such as Germany, France, and Northeastern USA, sugar is added to grapes when they lack the natural sweetness needed for fermentation. 

Some people think that adding sugar to wine is considered cheating, but others believe that it is needed by certain grape varieties to produce wine.

Reverse Osmosis

In this enrichment process, the wine passes through a very tight filter. The ethanol and water in wine can pass through, except for other elements, such as color, flavor, and tannins.

The water and ethanol solution can also be distilled to separate them. Some of the ethanol is usually removed before mixing all the elements again (including those filtered out).

The water can also be removed to have more concentrated flavors. Winemakers use reverse osmosis to reduce volatile acidity, brett, and notes of smoke taint in wines.

De-Enrichment

De-enrichment is used to reduce the sweetness of the grapes to produce dry wine. Here are its methods:

  • Watering Back or Adding Water
  • Reverse Osmosis

Watering Back

Water is added in this process when sugar levels are too high. This method decreases the sugar level, but it also dilutes the quality of the wine. Watering back indicates that the climate or grape selection in the region is out of balance.

4. AcidificationDifferent acids in different containers

These winemaking additives are used to increase the acidity of grapes to create a stable alcoholic beverage. They are commonly added to grapes from warmer regions with low acidity.

Knowing the acid content of wine is important because the higher its acidity is, the longer it will last. The amount of acid in wine also influences its color, brightness, intensity, and taste, among other things.

Here are examples of this corrective additive:

The acids mentioned give the wine a tart flavor and help define its balance, character, texture, or mouthfeel. During filtration and just before bottling, ascorbic acid is also added, which acts as a preservative that prevents oxidation.

5. De-Acidification

This winemaking process is used to decrease the acidity of grapes to make a stable wine. Examples of corrective additives under de-acidification are:

Calcium Carbonate

Calcium Carbonate or chalk reduces the acidity by increasing the pH of the wine. It is commonly added in areas with cool weather and places that have a hard time ripening grapes. 

Here is a video that further tackles the various wine nutrients, enzymes, and chemicals you need to make wine:

Why Use Wine Making Additives?

When used correctly, wine making additives can improve the age-worthiness and sensory qualities of the alcoholic beverage. They also enhance the color, clarity, and stability of the wine. 

Wine making additives do various things that help make wine production simpler by providing control over each step in the process. Additives are also used to fix problems with fermentation and aging.

Wine additives are typically used in mass-produced wines, but small producers utilize them as well. 

Can You Make Wine Without Additives?

Yes, you can make wine without using additives. Some people even say that wine is better when no chemicals are added to it. 

However, other benefits are sacrificed if you don’t use wine additives since they help the winemaking process become more efficient. An example is the fining of wine. Fining agents work quickly and make wines very clear.

You can create clear wines without fining agents, but it will take a long time. Plus, the wine may not be as crystal clear in appearance.

That’s why you have to consider everything and weigh the pros and cons when using wine additives.

Why Are There Non-Vegetarian Wine Additives?

Winemakers in France and Italy have been adding one or two egg whites to big barrels of wine for hundreds of years.

Free proteins found in the wine will bind to the proteins in the egg white. The egg white and free proteins will then precipitate and fall to the bottom of the barrel after a short while. The clear wine would then be strained off the top, and the sludge would be left behind. Fining and racking is the term for this procedure.

More sophisticated methods achieve similar results, including various microbial products (entirely vegetarian) that serve the same purpose. But wine additives that aren't vegetarian are still commonly used in the present.

Non-Vegetarian Wine Additives

  • Casein Milk in different containers

This protein can be derived from milk. It is used for fining sherries and white wines by reducing the phenolic compounds related to browning and bitterness.

Casein is softer than isinglass or gelatin but has fewer clarifying actions. There are different fining agents, such as casein, potassium caseinate, and a combination of potassium caseinate with skim milk and bentonite or silica.

Casein is also an alternative for carbon in removing the wine’s color. It is less effective than carbon, but this fining agent avoids oxidative degradation associated with carbon.

  • Isinglass

Isinglass is made from fish bladders. It is an excellent clarifying agent unless you are a vegetarian. This substance is used to reduce the cloudiness in many white wines. 

Take note that Isinglass is not a part of the final product because it precipitates out of the wine. 

  • Egg Albumen 

It is used to get rid of phenolic compounds by binding with them. These compounds are related to the harsh astringency that can be found in red wines. 

The fining softens and improves the suppleness of the alcoholic beverage. It's usually done when the wine is inside the barrel or just before bottling.

  • Food-Grade Gelatin 

     Red gelatin with berries

Gelatin is used in cooking food and as a clarifying agent in beer and winemaking. It also reduces the amount of phenolic compounds that cause browning, bitterness, and astringency in wine.

Winemakers should only use a small amount of gelatin because it is aggressive and may remove color and cause over fining. Remember only to add gelatin when the wine is too overpowering.

Other examples of non-vegetarian wine additives are:

  • Protease (Pepsin)
  • Protease (Trypsin)
  • Milk Products (pasteurized whole, skimmed, and half-and-half)

Things to Consider When Using Wine Additives 

  • Transparency

The US government doesn’t require wine producers to have an ingredient list for their products (except for sulfites). This is why consumers are unsure what their bottle of wine contains, and this may cause issues.

An example is Mega Purple which is a super-concentrated grape juice. It is used as an additive to enhance the color and body of red wine. However, it can also stain your teeth and slightly increase the sugar content of wine when it’s added after fermentation. So if you are on a diet, you need to know if your wine contains such sweeteners.

Transparency in winemaking is important but if your wine does not have an ingredient list, try to ask the winemaker or producer.

  • Purity

There are minimal studies on the impact of wine additives on human health. And there is no way of identifying what additives you've consumed because wine producers aren't obliged to reveal the additive content of their products.

We believe that wine should be approached similarly to food: the fewer additives, the better. Or the purer a wine is, the safer it would be.

  • Quality

Wine additives improve winemaking, but they also affect the drink’s quality. They standardize the taste of wine per batch, removing the alcoholic beverage’s uniqueness in the process.

Every wine has a story of how and when it was made. But due to wine additives, this story could be lost.

Conclusion

Common and corrective are the two main types of wine additives. Common additives help make wine more efficient, while corrective additives remedy the issues you might encounter in winemaking.

We hope this guide to wine making additives and chemicals helped you understand their purpose and importance.

Do you think that additives should be used in wines? Which wine additives do you prefer when making homemade wine? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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