In final column in series about sacramental wine we visit issues common to all wine: what’s this stuff in the communion cup/Bordeaux glass?
• What are the little white crystals or flakes in the wine?
Natural grape tartrates that crystallize in wine when it is stored too long or at too cold a temperature. In white wines they are called “wine crystals” or “wine diamonds.” They are more likely to be visible in white wines, but they are more likely to occur in quality red wines (which typically are not used for altar wines). The crystals often form in consumer red wines made old style—no cold fermentation or filtration. In those cases, the crystals are usually signs of quality.
The crystals are harmless. They can be removed by pouring wine through a coffee filter, but best solution is to store properly: a consistent temperature between 55 and 70 degrees. Celebrate the crystals when you decant an old, expensive, non-altar wine from your cellar.
• What are these grains of dark stuff in the wine?
Sediment composed of tannins and other solid matter that forms in the wine as it ages. They occur in red wines, particularly bottlings aged eight years or more. For quality consumer wines, this is positive sign and can mean wine has promise of character and complexity.
Sediment also is caused by storing wine in hot environment for too long, and in this case it is not a good thing. While sediment is not harmful, in altar wine it usually signals wine is past its prime.
• Why is this white wine brown?
It is past its prime; forces of light and time triumphed over the preservation forces of sulfites. This is serious flaw. The wine can still be consumed—it won’t harm you, but it will taste old. If you are a priest or just a regular wine drinker, when the wine is brown, find the drain and pour it down. The higher alcohol of wines such as Angelica-style (18 percent) tends to prevent this from happening.
Tasting notes on some sacramental wines used in San Angelo area:
• Mont La Salle Rosato. Deep rose color, sweet, mellow; 12 percent alcohol. St. Joseph (Rowena).
• Cribari Rosato. Delicate, sweet, pink; 12 percent alcohol. St. Therese (Carlsbad), St. Margaret of Scotland (San Angelo).