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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What can I do if the sediment stays in the bottleneck area, and why does that happen? What makes sediment?
—Humphrey, Hong Kong
While sediment is harmless, it can be unpleasant and gritty. Sediment often settles on the side of a bottle, so before serving, it’s customary to set the bottle upright for a couple of days and then slowly pour off the wine into a decanter, leaving the sediment in the bottle. But I know what you’re talking about—sometimes I pop a cork and I can see thick sediment sticking to the neck of a bottle. If I were to decant, I’d just be mixing in the sediment with the wine, so I do one (or both) of two things: I’ll quickly splash out just an ounce or two of the wine, hoping the sediment will come out with that splash, or I’ll just take my finger (or my finger wrapped in a napkin) and wipe out the neck.
What causes sediment? Sometimes it’s just byproducts of making wine, such as dead yeast cells, bits of grapes and seeds, tartrates and polymers. Some winemakers filter that stuff out, but not all do. Sediment is also a byproduct of aging wine—phenolic molecules combine to form tannin polymers that fall out of the liquid. I typically notice sediment in wines around the 10-year mark from their vintage date.
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