Ask Wine Wizard

Brown (Instead of Red) Wine


Michael Gardner — Georgetown, Texas asks,

I picked some Sangiovese in tough looking shape. The skins appeared to be oxizided and some of the fruit had some volatile acidity (VA) going on. I solved the VA problem with some SO2. But the browning of the skins followed it into the wine. pH came in at 3.68 and the Brix was at 25. With my eyes closed, the wine has a nice, light fruitiness typical of Sangiovese. As a tasting experience it’s not too bad . . . certainly quaffable as I like to say. But the optics leave a bit to be desired due to the browning. I’ve read all kinds of articles about browning in whites with PVPP (Polyvinylpolypyrrolidone ), egg whites, etc. but nothing really addresses browning in reds. And this browning obviously came from the skins, not from oxidation of tannins due to aging (it’s 6–7 weeks old). Any suggestions? I’m not averse to stripping it so to speak and then blending in say some Syrah and even making more of a super Tuscan out of it, but how do I remove the browning?

There’s the old saw about the sow’s ear and the silk purse. It reminds me of my old adage of “never blend a loser,” which admonishes readers against blending bad wine into good. It improves the bad wine at the detriment to the whole blend. That’s too bad your grapes were sub-optimal and absolutely you did the right thing adding the SO2 to try to combat the rot and potential VA issue. Unfortunately, rot in both red wines and whites, especially if Botrytis cinerea are present, can mean the presence of laccase, a particularly nasty type of polyphenoloxidase (PPO). PPOs are naturally occurring enzymes in grapes that cause brown pigments in juice and wine. In your case, your rot has probably been unleashed by a Botrytis cinerea infection. Though most winemakers think of white wines when they think “browning,” this is because the colors in red wine often cover up, out-shine, and mask any brown pigments. Red wines, as you’ve found, can experience significant browning due to rot too, especially because the extra skin contact during fermentation compounding time with
Response by Alison Crowe.