You get towards the end of a very enjoyable glass of wine and what do you notice lurking in the bottom? Horrible looking little black particles. Just what are they? How did they get there? And how can you make sure they never appear in your glass again? We attempt to get the bottom of a perplexing problem for wine lovers.
What is wine sediment?
Sediment can form both during fermentation and in the bottle and is completely harmless, although you wouldn’t necessarily want to drink it. In fermentation it primarily consists of dead yeast cells, as well as proteins and bits of the grape such as stems and skin fragments. The sediment can give wine a greater depth and allow it to develop more character. However, this sediment is separated from the wine during a process called clarification before the wine is poured into casks or tanks to age.
Sediment generally only forms in the bottle if it has been aged for at least eight years. This consists of tannins, a naturally occurring bond of molecules found in fruit skins, plants, bark and wood. In wine, they come from the skins, stems and seeds of the grapes and wood from the barrels the wine is aged in. It can also contain wine crystals, or potassium bitartrate, from the tartaric acid naturally present in grapes. During cellaring, the sediment falls to the side of the bottle (assuming it has been stored at an angle). This will further enhance the complexities of the wine and deepen its colour but when you come to serve it you’ll want to remove it first as it can give it a sharp, bitter aftertaste and an unpleasant texture.
Tips to removing wine sediment
Firstly, hold the bottle up to the light to check whether sediment has formed. If it has, leave the bottle upright for at least 24 hours to allow all the sediment to fall and collect in one small heap at the bottom. Next, pour the majority of the bottle into a decanter, leaving the sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Stand a torch or a candle underneath the neck of the bottle so that you can see as soon as the sediment starts to come through - that’s when you know to stop pouring.
Decanting is the ideal method but if you’ve forgotten to leave your bottle standing upright and you’re desperate to crack into it straight away, or if you only want to pour a glass or two, there are a few tricks. You could use a tea strainer or a coffee filter or, if you want something a little more professional, invest in an aerator with a filter built into it.
A sign of quality
Ultimately, sediment is not something to be overly worried about. It is generally a sign that the wine has been aged and is of good quality. Many Old World winemakers prefer unfiltered wine as they believe that it adds enormously to the complexity and character of the wine. Wine is a dynamic, natural drink and is meant to change over time.
Do you know how to properly open wine bottle? Read more here!