Sediment in wine doesn't mean it's gone bad

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
Sept. 4, 2002
Many years ago when the only thing I knew about wine was that I liked its taste, I brought home a bottle of wine as a special treat. When my wife and I opened and poured it, we noticed flakes of some kind floating around.
We jumped to the conclusion the wine had gone bad and our money had been wasted. I called the retailer and complained and requested a replacement.
Within a week a representative of the winery called on us with a bottle from a later vintage. I know now that he didn't know any more about wine than I did. The wine wasn't bad. It was just old enough to have thrown sediment. Properly decanted, chances were it would have been as good to drink, or better, than the later vintage with which the wholesaler replaced it.
Sediment in wine is mostly tannins. You'll find it primarily in older red wines including vintage ports or, in fact, almost all old ports. I have seen flakes in a white wine but it was wine which had been frozen in shipment and sold at a bargain price as a result. The flakes created by the freezing process were tasteless and except for their snowstormlike appearance in the bottle you wouldn't have known they were there.
Red wines get their color from the skins of the grapes and those skins are mostly tannin. Over the years these solids gather and create sediment in the bottle. It doesn't mean the wine is bad. It just means it has been around a few years and it also usually means the wine is of high quality.
In some of my 20-year-old ports the sediment can be as thick as a half-inch deep in the bottom of the bottle. A bottle which has been on its side for years will have this sediment on the side wall as well, very noticeable after the wine is poured.
Two suggestions
There are two things you can do if you own or purchase a bottle of such wine. First, stand it up for two or three days to let the sediment fall to the bottom.
Get a candle and light the wick. Find a clear crystal decanter and hold it in one hand in proximity to the flame. Then take the bottle, tilt it gently and hold it over the flame so the light from the candle can be seen through the glass.
Pour the bottle's contents into the decanter with a slow steady hand, watching the flow of the wine leaving the bottle as lighted by the candle behind it. As long as you can see the wine is clear keep pouring until some of the sediment begins to appear. At that point stop and pour the remaining inch or two of wine and its sediment down the drain.
If every drop is important. With these old and rare wines, get a coffee filter and insert it in a funnel that fits in the mouth of the decanter. Then pour the wine into the filter and the funnel. It will go through fairly quickly at first but, as the sediment begins to come out, the filter will become clogged and the wine flow will be reduced to a slow drip.
Either way will work fine and the filter will not change the taste of the wine. The air will, however, and it is best to drink the wine within the next two or three hours, particularly if it is very old.
The tannins and pigment which make up the sediment that gathers in the bottle are natural. Unless you shake up the bottle and redistribute the sediment the mere fact that it is present will not affect the taste of the wine. It looks ugly but it is completely harmless unless you disturb it.
For most of you, this will never be a problem. The majority of wine lovers drink their wines within a short time after purchase. Very few have cellars and this is primarily a problem for those who have and who keep their wines for a number of years. A rack with six or eight bottles in the kitchen is likely to require refilling rather than decanting.
A note to the wise
In March we held our most successful tasting to date, a wine and cheese affair matching wonderful foreign cheese from France, England, Italy and Spain with complementary wines.
None of this cheese is available in Meridian. We make a special trip to New Orleans, taste a number of different types of cheese at our supplier and select six of his finest for the tasting. Then we study wines and decide on those which will marry the cheeses chosen.
The March affair sold out and we were forced to turn away seven people who wished to attend. This tasting will be repeated Sept. 26 but with different cheese, all of it imported and very special. Some of it is in the $20 per pound class. All of it is somewhat rare and very wonderful.
As we did last time, it will be served with Bremner Wafers, the finest crackers available to match with cheese.
When we made the announcement of last week's tasting more than half the available seats were instantly reserved. There is no doubt this event will sell out quickly. If you would like to attend we urge you to call 482-0930 at your earliest opportunity and reserve a space or spaces.
The price for this special tasting is $35. Because we buy just enough cheese for our predetermined number of attendees we have to cutoff reservations when the maximum number is reached. That is why we're giving this early notice. To wait is likely to be disappointed.

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