Sedimentary, Dear Watson

It was December 23rd in New York City, and a girl I had crushed on since middle school—Amy, we’ll say—had agreed to join me on this spontaneous adventure to Manhattan for a night at the Palace and some other swanky endeavors our traveling party had arranged. Having eschewed my middle school awkwardness, I wanted to wine, dine and impress Amy as much as possible.

Amy was a bit Stevie Nicks, a bit Loretta Lynn, and a bit Eva Longoria—big personality packed into a tiny 5’2” frame. Everything was worth trying once, as far as Amy was concerned, and as it turns out, “everything” included wine sediments.

At our last dinner, the table ordered some bottles of exquisite California wine, and needless to say, there wasn’t a drop to spare. Upon pouring the final glass for Amy, she noticed little bits sinking to the bottom of her glass.

In good Amy fashion, she had to know what the sediment tasted like, and on her last gulp, held her glass nearly vertical as the grainy bits made their down. (Long story short, it tastes like bitter wine and feels like sand.) My company was mortified, but I was delighted to watch her imbibe and crush their visions of wine etiquette. 

Through this experience—however embarrassing for them and humorous for me—I did learn a thing or two about wine sediment, and it’s a topic that warrants explaining so that you, too, may spare yourself the personal inquisition.

As anyone who’s had their share of aged wine will know, the formation and separation of sediment is a common and generally good indicator of the wine’s quality and vintage. It does not mean the wine is bad (not necessarily, anyway).

Sediment in wine is not comprised of any one element—it’s usually a matter of some chemistry and physics drawing particles suspended in the wine down to a resting place.  It could be tiny bits of fruit, spice, and complex molecules that make up tannins in one heaping pile of grapey grains.

Amy does not recommend tasting it for yourself—but, of course, she has no regrets.

Typically, sediment is heavy enough to stay at the bottom of the glass while you’re drinking, thought you may sacrifice a sip or two at the end to spare yourself the sipping. You don’t need to go through the trouble of removing it, especially when dining out.

You can, of course, circumvent the issue entirely with an aerator or decanter that will filter out the sediment entirely, leaving you with a cleaner wine. And, as a pro tip, don’t turn your bottles if they’re in the cellar, so as to allow the sediment to collect and separate out.

So, in the midst of your spring-cleaning, you can celebrate something else about wine: it’s okay to drink it a little dirty.