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Blog: Tarter (Weinstein) in the Wine · Expertise

Tartar - the short form
An acidic potassium salt of tartaric acid, properly called potassium hydrogen tartrate - period.

Tartar - the detailed form
When a bottle of wine is uncorked, every now and then tiny, shiny crystals are found at the cork level or inside the bottle. These crystals are called tartar by experts. It is formed by the combination of tartaric acid with calcium and potassium. Potassium hydrogen tartrate - this dry technical term will certainly not excite the connoisseur of a glass of wine, sparkling wine or spumante when he sees more or less large crystals shimmering on the bottom of the glass or in the bottle, which can range in color from crystal clear to brownish. On a larger scale, tartar occurs during wine aging in the cellar. In old wooden barrels, one can find centimeter-thick tartrate deposits, an accumulation of millions of small crystals. However, every wine lover should know what tartar is all about. Tartar is nothing other than crystallized tartaric acid. And it is precisely this tartaric acid that accompanies the wine from the grape through the must to the bottling of the finished wine - this applies equally to sparkling wine and spumante.

Where does tartaric acid come from?
In the harvested grapes, especially in the late harvested ones, we find considerable amounts of tartaric acid. This is because the riper the grape, the higher its tartaric acid content. Longer ripening allows for more extensive absorption of mineral compounds and trace elements, including potassium as a proportion of the total extract from the soil. Tartaric acidity thus testifies to high initial acidity and extract, thus ensuring long shelf life. Tartaric acids also represent a significant flavor component of the wine. At some point during the wine's development, some of this tartaric acid precipitates in crystalline form as tartar; especially readily when the wine reaches temperatures below 8° Celsius.

Really a flaw?
Tartrate precipitation only becomes a problem in the bottle when the wine drinker erroneously criticizes the crystals as foreign bodies or classifies them as quality-reducing, in ignorance of the naturalness of the process. In recent times, modern cellar masters are increasingly trying to bring about immediate tartar precipitation by strong, shock-like cooling before bottling, but actual wine connoisseurs reject this rather punishing treatment of the wines. Contrary to the modern zeitgeist - to make every wine beautiful after the fact by artificial means - tartar is a visible sign of quality. If fine, shimmering crystals cover the underside of the cork or the bottle shows a more or less strong coating on the inner wall; it shows nevertheless that the wine was developed naturally and very carefully, that it lives and communicates with its minerals. In terms of taste, tartar actually influences the wine, sparkling wine or spumante rather positively. At most, the taste becomes somewhat rounder over time due to the associated reduction of part of the tartaric acid. Wine with tartar is poured carefully into the glasses, so that no one gets a whole sediment but only a few of the crystalline quality evidence. Red wine can be decanted in a carafe. White wine should be poured carefully directly from the bottle into the glass.

A phenomenon of wine making
Tartar precipitation on the bottle can occur not only in older wines but also in young wines. The precipitation occurs in particular due to temperature variations and over time The tartar in itself is not a mandatory characteristic of quality, however, its presence has decreased sharply in the last 20 years. With the decline of tartar on the bottle, it is noticeable that this has been accompanied by reduced or greatly delayed bottle ripening. One often waits in vain for the wine to refine on the bottle. Tartar is often physically eliminated from the wine by cold. Industrially, metatartaric acid (food additive: E 334) seems to be considered as a chemical precipitant. In this context, one always speaks of tartrate stabilization. One important reason why wine is increasingly being 'freed' completely from potassium hydrogen tartrate (tartar) is the 'volatile consumer'.  In plain language, this means that those who are only superficially concerned with wine are not bothered with a phenomenon of wine production.  In other words, one wants to have his peace, if the wine is from the cellar.

What you should know about wines in storage
Please allow wines in storage (aged vintages e.g. 2001) the necessary rest before opening. The bottles should also be placed in an upright position at least one hour before uncorking to allow any sediment to settle. Sediment (also called tartar) and a slight cloudiness of the wine due to the same, does not represent a flaw. Tartar represents the natural and non-industrial production of the product. This sediment occurs more frequently in wines that have been stored. In addition, we ask you to uncork the wines carefully. Natural cork ages along with the wine and sometimes cannot be released right away - and definitely not with brute force. We advise against modern Skrewpull corkscrews and recommend the tried and tested waiter's knife.

Weinstein im Wein
NameTarter (Weinstein) in the Wine