Definition - What does Clarification mean?

Clarification is a step in the winemaking process that proceeds bottling. Winemakers use clarification to remove suspended material in wines that are created via chemical reactions during the winemaking process. They are insoluble and float around in the wine, creating a cloudy, dull appearance. On some occasions, the particles can change the flavor and aroma of the wine. When this occurs, the winemaker uses a clarification process to remove these particles and ensure that the wine is clear and crisp. Only once the wine is clear does the winemaker then bottle it.

WineFrog explains Clarification

Most of the wines that you see on the shelf of the liquor store have been clarified, or have undergone some process by which these particles are removed. The process of clarification can be done naturally by aging the wine and racking it so that the particles are easily removed, or clarification can be induced.

There are several ways that a winemaker can induce clarification:

  1. Fining: using the chemicals to create bonds with the floating particles and make larger clumps that are easy to remove.
  2. Filtering: using a filter – traditionally rough cloth-covered screens – to catch the larger particles.
  3. Centrifugation: high-speed spinning to force the particles out of the wine.
  4. Refrigeration: using temperature reduction to prevent the growth of yeast and evolution of carbon dioxide.

Each method requires careful monitoring in order to ensure that the wine is not exposed to unnecessary oxygen levels or a reduction in alcohol and other characteristics. Which method the winemaker uses also depends on the type of particles suspended in the wine. These particles include:

  • Dead yeast cells (lees)
  • Bacteria
  • Tartrates
  • Proteins
  • Pectins
  • Various tannins
  • Phenolic compounds
  • Grape skin
  • Pulp
  • Stems
  • Gums.

While the suspended particles generally don’t negatively affect the aroma or flavor of a finished wine, they do have a large effect on the overall appearance of a wine. Wines that have not been clarified prior to bottling appear cloudy and dull, making them look unappealing even though the aroma and flavor are the same as if they had been clarified.

In fact, there are times when a winemaker won’t clarify. These include:

  • Reds made for aging: winemakers will leave tartrates and phenolics in the bottles so that the wine will develop the aromatic compounds as they age.
  • Natural winemaking: some winemakers believe that clarification diminishes the wine’s aroma, flavor, texture, color and aging potential, and thus don’t clarify their wines.

In the case where a wine you’re enjoying is cloudy or has floating particles (sediment), decanting will usually clear those up and help you enjoy your wine.

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