Wine Basics – Sediment

We opened a bottle of wine the other night to have when some friends came over for dinner.  It was an inexpensive but nice red from the Vaucluse region of France.  About halfway into the bottle, my wife got a mouthful of sediment.  This gave me the idea for this post as sediment is misunderstood by many wine buyers.

Sediment is a natural part of wine.  All wine starts out with solid material in suspension.  When the solids (mostly bits of grape skin and yeast) settles out you get sediment.  Red wines which are vinified in contact with the grape skin and are frequently aged long enough for solids to settle out, are more prone to having sediment than whites and rosés.

A quick note, white wines and rosés that have been chilled a bit too much can have clear or white crystals form in the bottom of the bottle.  This is a precipitate, tartaric acid.  It is not sediment and it is harmless.  Just let the bottle warm up a bit.

It can be unpleasant to get a mouthful of wine with sediment in it.  As a result many people think of sediment as a flaw.  To remove this “flaw” many winemakers use techniques such as filtering, fining, and even centrifuging wine to remove it.  The problem is you can’t remove sediment without also removing some flavor.

So what should you do?  Well the easiest thing is to let the bottle sit upright for several hours before you serve it.  This allows the sediment that may have been stirred up on the trip home to settle.  This is what I did wrong.  I bought the wine only a couple of hours before we poured it and it was moved around the kitchen as we cooked and cleaned up.  But if you do it right, after the wine has had a chance to settle, take a look at the bottom of the bottle in good light.  If there is sediment, decant the wine, or just be careful pouring it.  Enjoy.

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