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Using Pectic Enzymes In A Red Wine


Robert St-Jean — Cantley, Quebec asks,

I’ve just read that using pectic enzyme can result in faster maturity in some wines and that sometimes such wines decline faster than untreated wines. Should I avoid using it or not worry about using it if I am to drink my wines within 1–3 years? On average how much time can it take for such wines to start declining and for someone to start noticing? I’ve always used it for my red wines. if I stop am I likely to come across haze issues?


To quote one of my vineyard colleagues who always likes to give multiple sides to every answer, “It depends” (thanks, Rich). And so it is with pectic enzymes in winemaking. Pectic enzymes are proteins that can be added to wines at different stages to achieve many different results: To increase juice yields at the press, to help color extraction, and to result in better settling. In the case of fruit or country wines, pectic enzymes are a necessary ingredient in your winemaking arsenal as it’s almost impossible to get clear, bright, and settled fruit wines without using them.

Since you mentioned red wines above, I’m assuming that you’re using wine grapes and not high-pectin fruit like black currants or raspberries. If you’re making all-grape wine the choice to use pectic enzymes or not will depend on your starting material and on your experience with these particular grapes, if you’ve used them more than once. Pectic enzymes, unlike say, sulfur dioxide or oak barrels or chips, are quite low on my list of “necessary” winemaking ingredients for traditional red winemaking. When added at the crusher these enzymes can help in improved color stability and rounder mouthfeel as they break open the grape skin cells and “digest” the larger pectin molecules. I could see this being beneficial to lower-color varieties like Pinot Noir and indeed this is the one area where I will sometimes use pectic enzymes, albeit at a low dose, in my own winemaking.

If you’re willing to be of the ‘no wine before its time’ school, and you’re willing to be patient, then I don’t see the point in using pectic enzymes to hurry things along.

Does using pectic enzymes result in faster maturity and then a subsequent early decline of the wine over time? Insofar as it improves mouthfeel and roundness, I could see how it could be interpreted as having that effect. I’m not sure it’s so much about advancing aging as it is making wine friendlier a little earlier. If you’re willing to be of the “no wine before its time” school, and you’re willing to be patient, then I don’t see the point in using pectic enzymes to hurry things along. There are plenty of ways to build mouthfeel like lees stirring during aging (works on white as well as red wines) and the smoothness and roundness it’ll pick up from aging in barrel or with oak chips, blocks, or segments.

That statement, “it depends” comes into play again because your starting material and dose will dictate the outcome. Big, tannic monsters like Cabernet Franc or Petit Verdot would roll over a small dose of pectic enzyme without blinking, and I would argue don’t really need it (plenty of color and mouthfeel precursors already) as long as you’ve got enough time to age the big tannins into smoothness in a barrel or with some oak pieces. The over-addition of any fining agent can really strip a wine and I could see that if you started with a lighter-bodied Pinot Noir batch and used a high dose of pectic enzyme in the fermenter. You might fine too much of the character right out of such a wine. At the very least, too much pectic enzyme will turn your red must to mush in the fermenter resulting in a messy nightmare as you try to press.

Do you really need to use pectic enzyme in red winemaking? In my own winemaking I tend not to as I’ve never had a problem with pectin hazes. It’s indispensable for fruit wines but Vitis vinifera tend not to give me those issues. Like I said earlier, the only time I use enzymes in red winemaking is with some lighter-colored wines like a Pinot Noir. You may have heard me say in the past that “time is the best fining agent.” This is true with regards to just about any red wine. Red grapes don’t typically carry a high pectin load so using an enzyme to remove it just seems like a bit of a waste of time and money to me.

Response by Alison Crowe.