You may have noticed at some point flecks of sediment in your wine. Some wines have more sediments than others. While this sediment is a natural result of the winemaking process, you may wonder how it impacts the safety or flavor of the wine.
Is sediment in wine ok to drink?
Yes, in almost all cases, the sediment found in wine is perfectly fine to drink. Some people may not enjoy the feel of solid particles in their wine, even if they’re small, but it’s very easy to get rid of these particles. However, as long as the sediment is not troublesome, go ahead and have a glass, sediment included!
We’ll explain why sediment might exist in your bottle of wine and how you can safely filter the sediment without impacting the flavor of the wine too much.
What Causes Sediment In Wine?
Sediment in wine typically comes from two different sources, through the fermentation process to produce the wine, or through the aging process in an older bottle of wine.
To make wine, grapes are crushed and the juice is fermented with yeast. Small bits of the grape skins, seeds, or even dead yeast may be present in the final wine.
Typically, the winemaker will filter these out before bottling the wine through a process called racking. Racking is where the wine is siphoned from the top down, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the barrel or vat undisturbed. Some makers believe the small bits add flavor and texture to the wine in a good way, while other people may not prefer the textures.
Another process to remove sediment is called fining. Fining involves introducing an additive to the wine that binds with the target element, which could include tannins or proteins. Overdosing on the fining additive can risk stripping the desired flavors and mouthfeel from the wine, so it’s better when wine makers err on the side of caution when fining the wine. Fining can also be performed to help young, new wines become less astringent and harsh, therefore drinkable sooner than allowing them to age through a natural process.
Some wines are actually even aged on the “lees” of the wine. Lees are the yeast, fragments of the grapes skin, seeds, and stem, that fall to the bottom of the vat or barrel of the wine. Muscadet is an example of one wine that is typically aged “on the lees” or “sur lie” in French.
Once bottled, wine is typically laid down horizontally, or a slight downward angle, to help keep the cork moist. This will cause the sediment to settle on the side fo the bottle over time, or even towards the cork. When you pick the bottle up the sediment will be disturbed and distributed throughout the bottle, unless you let it rest again upright.
Wines that are high in tannins might gain additional sediment as they age. Tannins polymerize over time, meaning that they will bind together in long chains, which makes them taste less harsh. As the tannins and other phenolic components polymerize, they may fall out of the liquid wine as sediment. This will generally start becoming evident in wines that are ten years or older.
Some sediment may also resemble crystals. These crystals are likely tartaric acid crystals, otherwise known as potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar. These crystals form when tartaric acid, naturally found in grapes, binds with potassium. This typically happens at colder temperatures. Some of the additives used during the fining process can even catch the tartaric acid before bottling.
How to Remove Sediment From Wine
If you want to remove sediment from a bottle of wine, you can decant the wine. Decanting is simply the process of pouring the wine into another vessel, called a decanter. Decanters typically have a wider bottom and a much narrower neck. The wide bottom helps increase the surface area for wines that need to breathe, while the narrow neck makes the wine easier to pour.
To remove the sediment, let the wine rest upright for a day or two to allow the sediment to fall to the bottom of the bottle. Pour the wine into a decanter, stopping just before the sediment starts to flow into the decanter. There will likely be an ounce or two at the bottom of the bottle using this method.
If you’re unsure if your bottle might have sediment in it before you pour it, you should be able to detect it by looking at the bottle with a strong light, or by shining a flashlight through the bottle. You should be able to see the flecks, shadows, or dark spots in the wine if there is a lot of sediment.
Keep in mind that even if you don’t see sediment in your wine when you first purchase it, if you age the wine for several years at home, you may see additional sediment build up in your wine through the natural aging process. This does not indicate that your wine has gone bad.
After decanting, if you still notice sediment in the bottom of the decanter, you can decant the wine a second time, or even try pouring the wine through an unbleached coffee filter or a couple layers of cheesecloth. Some people feel that they can squeeze an extra ounce or two of wine from the bottle by simply pouring through a filter, rather than just avoiding pouring the sediment at the bottom of the bottle.
While filtering the sediment typically doesn’t greatly impact the flavor of the wine, some connoisseurs may be able to notice a slight difference if the sediment has been filtered out. The sediment is perfectly fine to drink, so unless you or your guests are disturbed by the texture of the sediment, feel free to drink it with your wine to enjoy the full experience of the wine as the wine maker intended!