I love talking about wine. Those who know me can attest to the fact that I will ramble on ad nauseum about some bit of enological minutia that I'm the only one who gives a rat's ass about. Sometimes I catch myself dropping wine buzz words, seemingly with the assumption that everyone around me knows what I'm talking about. I had this experience the other day when I mentioned the tartrates floating around in a glass of Chardonnay.
When you start dropping words like "tartrates" into your every day conversation, you have to expect to have the room look at you like you've sprouted a second head. In moments like these I realize that I'm a huge wine nerd, and that I also have a problem with talking without thinking. Why would I think that the people in this gathering would have any idea what I am talking about? It also makes me realize that one of the things that I don't do often enough on this blog is educational posts. There is a lot of misinformation out there about wine, and sometimes a good thing can appear to be a bad thing to the average consumer. Tartrates and sediment floating in your wine glass is definitely an example of this.
Tartrates are the little crystals that you will occasionally find residing in your bottle of wine, and especially on the cork. They are most often found in white wines, as the cold conditions that produce the crystals are less likely to take place with a red wine. These crystals are created when tartaric acid and potassium combine. Both tartaric acid and potassium are natural parts of a wine, but the crystals produced by their union are generally removed through a process known as cold stabilization. Cold stabilization is one of the many methods used by winemakers to pound their wine into a product that is easier to sell. The wine is brought down to near freezing temperatures for a few days, which causes the crystals to form, then filtered to leave the crystals behind.
So what does this mean about my bottle of Chardonnay? It means that there was one less bit of manipulation perpetrated against this wine. The presence of tartrate crystals in a wine is not an indication of lower quality or flawed wine. In fact, these crystals are probably more common in higher quality wines that have not undergone many of the processes that you find in mass produced wines. Decanting can keep the crystals out of you and your guest's wine glasses, but the presence of the crystals is nothing to be concerned about.
So, next time you are serving a wine to your friends and someone says, "Ew! Something is floating in my glass!" Simply tell them that it is only tartrate crystals, and nothing to worry about. Just be aware that they will probably look at you like you have two heads.
Image taken from www.diwinetaste.com