Author: Lamar Engel
Wine Sediment-What is it?
Have you ever opened up a nice bottle of wine you had been holding onto for some time?
Then pour the wine into a decanter, only to see a cluster of black matter at the bottom of your wine glass?
You are not alone. Many people have stood there scratching their head along with you and asked ‘What is that?’ Let’s take a look at the explanation behind these little bits of mystery we call wine sediment.
Breaking down the Sediment
Wine sediment is a natural occurring phenomenon that exists in both red and white unfiltered wines and is not unhealthy to digest. It is a common choice for winemakers to allow wines to be unfiltered in order to preserve the color and give the wine a richer texture. The particulate matter that sometimes remains in the glass or the bottom of the bottle is made of various parts depending on the type of sediment.
If you take a look at some types of wines such as Chardonnay or Muscadet, many back labels indicate “Sur Lees.” ‘Sur Lee’ is a French term that means “on the lees”. Lees are literally the dead yeast particles that sink to the bottom of the tank or barrel when the wine is resting. When a wine is sur lees, the winemaker will go in and stir the lees once a day with a stick or a ‘baton’ that looks like a little hockey stick. This process actually makes the wines taste richer and creamier (without the use of oak). Lees are also common in aged sparkling wines. There are times that this particulate matter can be thrown in the finished product of the wine and end up in the glass.
When wines are unfiltered and even ‘unfined’, the wine will appear to be cloudy. This cloudy residue is the build up of microscopic proteins that have been charged with movement and will eventually settle. Proteins are typically removed with bentonite or casein (egg whites) during wine stabilization or during the ‘fining’ stage. Proteins are almost always removed from commercial wines (especially white wine) because these wines can degrade quickly. However, when they are not removed, they are thrown to the sides of the bottle and often end up in the glass as well.
Have you ever opened up a bottle and noticed on the end of the cork that there are these little crystalized gems stuck to the surface? This is common in some red wines where potassium bitartrate is present and is a common byproduct of tartaric acid in winemaking. Wine crystals are common in unfiltered red wines and also some white wines. These crystals are actually food grade in their parts per billion and will not harm you. They just look unsightly at the bottom of the glass.
Grape Skins Particles
You may come across grape skins in the form of black goop in the bottom of your glass. Unfiltered red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah commonly have sediment in the bottle. It is also common to find grape particles in lighter red wines as well, and should not be a surprise to see this more as a filmy residue than actually broken down matter.
How to Remove Sediment
You can remove sediment a few different ways.
1- Set Bottle Upright: The best way to remove sediment is to leave the bottle standing upright on the counter unmoved for a few hours or a day. After waiting patiently, open the wine, and pour the wine gently into a decanter and leave about 1 inch of wine to remain at the bottom of the bottle where the sediment has now dropped. Be sure to use the shape of the bottle such as the ‘shoulder’ to catch the sediment before it gets into the decanter or glass.
2 - Wine Screen Filter: A wine filter is a great investment for those wine drinkers that love to drink red wine. The screen that is created for this filter is relatively fine making it easier for you to strain the bits of matter and skins. It is possible to filter into your glass if you do not have a decanter, but the best method is to screen filter the wine into a decanter for enjoyment.
3 – Coffee Filter or Cheese Cloth: Believe it or not this method works well. By creating a natural funnel filter with the material such as a coffee filter or cheesecloth, you are capturing 99% of the particulate matter. This method can be messy if you have not set up your pour station properly so take time to figure out what you will be pouring your wine into. Use your hand to cup and create a funnel for the filter to be placed loosely into with the pointed end of the decanter or glass and start pouring.