Egg White Fining and Overoaking

Using egg whites

Q I’m making a white wine and want to add egg white to help with the fining before my last racking. Is there any information on how to do the egg white thing?

Ben Garcia
Colorado Springs, Colorado

A For readers who don’t know, adding a solution of egg whites to wine does a nice job of pulling out excess tannins and phenolics that might cause your wine to be overly astringent and/or bitter. Traditionally used in Burgundy as a way to “smooth out” the rough edges that might exist around one’s Pinot Noir (horrors!), egg white fining has a big fan club around the globe because it’s an all-natural, minimally-interventionist way to polish up one’s red or white wine before bottling.

The big question you have to ask yourself is: how tannic is your wine, really? Since you’ve got a white, I’m guessing not too bad unless you squeezed the snot out of it at harvest-time. It is red wines that typically need higher doses of egg whites because they naturally carry more tannin — the more egg white you add, the more tannin the protein will pull out of solution. A not-so-tannic wine that needs just a teeny bit of smoothing out probably will do well at a dose of 0.20 mL of egg white per gallon of wine while a red wine with perceptible pucker and astringency may do better at 1.0 mL of egg white per gallon dose. If you have the patience (and the ability to measure out really small volumes) try doing a “bench trial” on 100 mL of wine or so first, to see what you prefer.

However, if you want to just go with a gut feeling, that’s OK. Figure that your average American egg will have around 24 mL of egg white per shell.

For 20 gallons (76 L) of wine, here’s my egg white fining procedure (multiply the quantities accordingly):

1. Break your egg and carefully separate the white from the yolk.

2. Measure out 9.2 mL of egg white in a graduated cylinder or with a pipette and place in a small bowl.

3. Add a tiny pinch of table salt and enough water (a few mL or a little more) to make a liquid solution.

4. With a whisk or a fork, gently dissolve the egg white into the water, taking care not to beat too much air into the solution. We don’t want any meringues here!

5. Dump the entire solution into your vessel and stir gently with a long stirring rod for about 30 seconds or so to make sure the liquid is distributed.

6. Leave covered (if you have headspace, gassing with CO2 or Argon is always a good idea after you open a vessel) for about two-three weeks to settle out.

7. Rack the wine carefully into another container (that hopefully is a good fit for your wine volume — we want everything topped up, right?), leaving any sediment on the bottom.

Feel free to leave the wine sitting a little bit longer until you rack in case you can’t get around to it, but don’t wait longer than four weeks. I’ve sometimes had wine sitting on egg white fining for too long get “manky” (a term my Australian interns used to say, I think it means “gross”).

Too much oak

Q I used oak in one of my trials of Minnesota Marquette wine. My trial was 5 gallons (19 L). Is there a way to filter off some of the oak taste?

Bob Lenertz
Waseca, Minnesota

A I’m so pleased you’ve done some oak trials! If you’ve read my column over the years you know that I’m always advising our intrepid readers to do small-scale trials (sometimes I call them “bench trials” after the “lab bench” work surface of your average winery enologist) before they commit to an additive or course of action for their precious gallons.

It sounds like you found a trial result that you weren’t too keen on, i.e. too much oak added to one of your carboys. I’m glad (and you should be too) that you only treated 5 gallons (19 L) of your wine; if you had done that oak treatment on a whole barrel (or more) you’d be dealing with a lot more unpleasant wine! Unfortunately, once we’ve added oak to a wine and it’s absorbed into the wine (whether via a barrel or oak beans, chips or segments), there’s no getting rid of it. The oak aromas, flavors and even a small amount of tannins and phenolic compounds have now become, for better or worse, intrinsically intertwined with the aromas, taste and mouthfeel of your Minnesota Marquette.

What can you do? The only realistic option is to blend your 5 gallons (19 L) with something else that would dilute the oaky aroma and flavor. Not knowing what extra gallons (liters) you have sitting around in your cellar, however, it’s hard for me to know how to advise you toward that end. However, you can do what many wineries do and keep those 5 gallons (19 L) as an “oak blender,” i.e dose small amounts of that wine into other lots as a flavor/aroma adjuster. That way, over time, you’ll eventually use up the over-oaked wine and you’ve made some of your other lots presumably better. As a last resort, if you don’t have any wine you can add to the 5-gallon (19-L) lot and if you can’t “disappear” those 5 gallons (19 L) over time into other things, you can do it the old fashioned way and just . . . wait.

Though once oak is in wine it tends to stick, the aromas and flavors will change and develop over time to a certain extent. Sometimes the change can be positive, i.e. sometimes the aromas will mellow out a little bit and change from being obviously oaky to seem more integrated. This last-ditch approach works best for wine lots that aren’t hideously over-oaked to begin with. At the very least, you’ve done something all good winemakers the world over do: you’ve learned what does not work for your wine, which is just as valuable as learning what does.

UC-Davis graduate and professional winemaker Alison Crowe has been answering hundreds of your winemaking questions as the “Wine Wizard” since 1998. She is the Winemaker for Plata Wine Partners, LLC, and provides custom winemaking services and consulting to nationally distributed as well as small start-up brands. Her columns are collected in The Winemaker’s Answer Book, available at  winemakermag.com/shop. Do you have a question? Send your inquiries to her at: [email protected].