It's Springtime here in the Adirondack Mountains and Mother Nature is awakening from her long winter sleep. Birds are chirping, flowers are blooming and the days are longer and warmer. Spring gently ushers in the season of Rosé - that delightful pink wine that's a lighter, brighter version of the reds we embraced all winter.
Here at the Robards house, the Mrs. makes sure there is ample rosé stocked in the cellar from Spring through Summer. But when Autumn arrives we switch to drinking the delicious red wines that go best with cool weather and warm food. Last October, there was one bottle of Beaujolais Rosé left in the back-up fridge in our garage, so I just decided to leave it there over the winter.
Fast forward to last week. It was a beautiful, sunny day - the kind that makes you want to throw up the windows and let in the fresh air. I couldn't resist the urge to go outside and work in the yard. As I was raking I could hear the unmistakable song of a black capped Chickadee and the soft cooing of a Mourning Dove. No doubt about it - Spring was in the air.
After a productive afternoon, I decided it was time to retrieve that bottle of rosé from the garage. As I opened the fridge door I noticed a few cans of seltzer had split open. Then I saw the bottle of rosé - the cork had been pushed out of the neck by at least a quarter of an inch. That meant the temperature had fallen below 22 degrees Fahrenheit and the wine had frozen. However, since the cork was still secure and the wine was back in liquid form, I knew it would be okay to drink.
That evening I opened the bottle, poured myself a glass of wine and headed for my home office. As I sat down and turned on the laptop, I lifted my glass to take a sip. And there, in the white light of the computer screen, I saw it - something that looked like glinting sediment in the bottom of my glass. The same wine I had last Summer didn't have sediment in it - so What the heck was that stuff in my rosé ????
I examined it closely and then realized exactly what I was looking at. An old memory from days gone by came back to me about the first time I encountered this strange looking stuff.
Many years ago, when Terry and I first got together, he opened a bottle of Pinot Noir to serve with a beautiful dinner he had made for me. At some point during the meal I noticed a strange looking sediment in the bottom of my glass. When I asked him what it was, he said "Those are tartrates - they form when wine gets really cold. They won't hurt you - they're harmless."
Well, curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to know more about this strange phenomenon. I set out to research the subject and this is what I learned: All grapes have a certain amount of potassium - a mineral that is essential for good health. Potassium assists in controlling nerve signals and muscle movement. It also flushes out excess sodium from the body - which in turn lowers blood pressure. Wine has a fair amount of potassium in it.
Likewise, all wines have acids - these are necessary to balance out sweetness and they also add structure and stability to the wine. There are three types of acid: Tartaric - which gives wine its tartness, Malic - which tastes like crisp green apples and Citric - which smacks of citrus fruit. Of the three acids, Tartaric is the most dominant.
So the question remains: How and why do tartrates form in wine?
Well, under certain conditions during the wine making process a chemical reaction takes place. If the temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, the tartaric acid in the wine links up with the potassium and the result is the formation of tiny crystals. Since the crystals are heavier than the liquid, they settle to the bottom of the fermentation tank. Once the sugar in the juice has been converted to alcohol, the wine is siphoned off the dregs and is either bottled or transferred to another vessel for aging.
The residue left in the bottom of the tank is cleaned out and sold to a chemical company. They in turn, purify the tartrate crystals and then pulverized them into a product we know as Cream of Tartar. Yes, that white powdery ingredient used to stabilize baked goods is a bi-product of the wine making industry.
I also learned of a more glamourous name for those sparkly little gems that can sometimes be found clinging to a freshly popped cork or at the bottom of an empty glass. In the trade, they are called WINE DIAMONDS - and everyone knows - Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend!
Until next time