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Is Potassium Sorbate In A Port Necessary?

TroubleShooting

Jerry Mahony — Bainbridge Island, Washington asks,
Q

I have been making blackberry Port wine. Instructions say to add potassium sorbate at bottling and sugar to taste and then a pint of brandy to raise alcohol to about 20%. When bumping up the alcohol, why is potassium sorbate necessary? Won’t the higher alcohol prevent any new fermentation?

A
I’m with you. If I was making a Port-style wine and it was 20% alcohol and 100–150 g/L residual sugar (10–15%) I would forgo the potassium sorbate altogether. I am not a fan of potassium sorbate because I think it makes wines taste funny and seems to be a holdover from an earlier era when home winemakers couldn’t get good filters and when it was added to everything as a refermentation retardant. Additionally, the elevated alcohol and sugar both will work together to retard most yeast or bacteria that may cause a re-fermentation in the bottle. Just make sure that indeed your wine has these kinds of statistics for robust aging. There’s nothing worse than what I might consider a “weak” Port-style wine. In fact, it’s probably one of the reasons I dislike so many California Zinfandel table wines. They often are 16% alcohol and 5% sugar and can’t seem to decide if they want to be red wine or Port. I prefer to go one way or the other for both style, palatability, and stability reasons. So if you’re
Response by Alison Crowe.