What is Wine Sediment?
Despite its negative appeal to American wine drinkers, sediment in wine may not only be an indication of an old wine. It is also possible that it indicates one made in recent years with hand-crafted care in order to maintain its unique quality and character over the long term. This bitter tasting but harmless residue is the byproduct of the application of little or no filtration in the winemaking process, thus enabling a wine's personality to more fully develop in the bottle.
Sediment in red wine is created over time by the breakdown of pigments and tannin within the wine. As time matures the wine, small amounts of these two these phenolic compounds gradually settle at the bottom of the bottle. Phenolic compounds are anti-oxidants and are believed to be the reason for wine's various health benefits.
It is possible that a wine of recent vintage will show some form of sediment, particularly unfiltered wines. It is important to know that this is not an indication of a fault in the wine. It will not be harmful if consumed. Even white wines could leave a deposit of harmless crystals inside the bottle, which is simply an indication that the wine was previously exposed to very cold temperatures after it was bottled. These are called tartrate crystals and may also be found attached to the bottom of corks.
Besides allowing a wine to breathe and open up in advance of drinking it, the process of decanting a wine will clear the wine of sediment when it is carefully poured into a separate vessel. When preparing to decant a wine that contains sediment, allow the bottle to stand undisturbed in advance for about 24 hours, if possible, to allow the microscopic solids to settle at the bottom of the bottle. Be mindful not to shake or vibrate the bottle before uncorking it. This will stir up the sediment and make decanting more difficult.
When ready to decant, slowly pour the wine into a clean decanter vessel and closely observe the wine passing through the neck of the bottle. As soon as the wine inside the neck shows sediment, stop pouring. Some sommeliers place a lit candle under the neck to make it easier to see the wine the instant it changes clarity.
Len Napolitano lives in Sonoma County and is certified in wine by the Society of Wine Educators, Wine & Spirits Education Trust and Chicago Wine School and continually gains knowledge from his frequent contact with California winemakers. More information is on his website, www.wineology.com.
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