18 January 2021

Racking wine for stability and quality

Most ex-pat plonk is drunk young, often within a week of it falling clear at the end of fermentation. Some even before that, when it is still bubbling and full of suspended yeast. Extremely young wine doesn't do you any harm, by the way. In some parts of Poland, cloudy fermenting wine is even served on tap, in the bars. I tried it when last there, and wasn't especially impressed. The yeasty taste was almost acceptable but the visual resemblance to calamine lotion was a definite turn-off. No. Received wisdom correctly says that finished wine should be matured for a time before drinking. But even if you don't have time to mature your wine properly, at the very least you should separate it from its sediment at the end of fermentation. This process is called racking.

Most books on winemaking advocate siphoning the wine from the fermenting vessel into the storage vessel. This is best practice if the fermenter is bigger than 10 litres and heavy to lift. (Though better still is to ferment in a plastic barrel with a fitted tap). But if the fermenter is 10 litres or less, simply pouring it carefully into the new vessel has several advantages:

  • It is much quicker, reducing the risk of oxidation
  • The pouring action helps release dissolved CO₂
  • Dissolved CO₂ can form bubbles in a siphon tube and stop the flow
  • There is less equipment to sterilise and to wash up
  • Performed carefully, the waste is no more than with a siphon.
After racking, always top up the storage vessel before sealing it. Use wine from a previous batch if you have some available (and if it is sound). Alternatively, use cool boiled water, though this obviously dilutes the wine reducing its ABV. Don't use fruit juice as this can restart fermentation, preventing clearing and pressurising the bottle.

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