Wine drinkers are often surprised, and occasionally horrified, to hear their wine may contain traces of egg white. Those who love oeufs en meurette can confirm that eggs and wine are not such a queasy combination as you might at first think. But actually the practice of running egg whites through a wine before it is bottled is a technical rather than a taste thing. And put those hungry thoughts of poached eggs in a red wine sauce away because there shouldn’t actually be any egg white left in the wine afterwards.
The process is called fining. Its purpose is to remove microscopic solid particles that may be suspended in the liquid so that the finished wine isn’t hazy. Egg whites aren’t the only means of doing this – casein, isinglass or bentonite are other fining agents – but it’s what they use at Muga in Rioja so I was able to ask a few questions when I visited the winery earlier this week.
Here is the very fancy egg separator they use.
The eggs are broken (at high speed, apparently) onto the top rail. The whites slither through the slits onto the bottom rail and slide off into the bowl on the left while the yolks plop into the bowl on the right.
Judging by this dustbin full of egg shells they get through a lot of eggs.
“We use 3-4 egg whites to fine a 225 litre barrel of wine,” Juan Muga told me. “And about 420 for a 16,000 litre cask. The egg white is mixed with a bit of wine and a pinch of salt – the salt stops the egg white making snow when it goes into the wine – then we pour that mixture into the top of the barrel. It settles at the bottom and the tap from which we take out the wine is always above it which is how the wine is separated off from the egg white mixture.”
The winery gets through 80,000 free-range eggs, supplied by a local farmer, every year. So what happens to all those lovely yellow yolks? Modern European health & safety regulations decree they have to be destroyed. What a dreadful waste! Just imagine the number of cremes caramels that could be made with that lot. I have Sarah Jane Evans to thank for pointing out that in fact, historically in wine regions an egg yolk surplus has fed into the local patisserie culture giving us all sorts of delicious eggy cakes and custards – such as these yemas, made from condensed milk, sugar and egg yolks, and magicked out of the Muga kitchen by Juan Muga.
I love the way the mixture has been reshaped into the same size as a perfect, glistening egg yolk.
Today’s wine is of course from Muga. I just love their stuff. In honour of the sunny weather I’ve picked their very fine rosado. It’s one of my long-standing favourites – dry, relatively pale for a Spanish pink, tenacious, subtle and refreshing. Not a highlighter pen rose. And not one of those that taste of strawberry Opal Fruits, or whatever they call them now. It’s particularly delicious with tomato salads and olive oil and bread – but Muga reds are also superb so if that’s your thing look one out.