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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I opened a 1989 Château de Beaucastel and disappointedly found it had begun to separate. Never had that before. Your thoughts?
—Jeff P., South Carolina
I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “begun to separate,” but my guess is that the wine was just showing its age. Over time, sediment settles to the bottom of a bottle; this sediment usually contains tiny bits of grapes and seeds, and/or dead yeast cells or tartrates. Also, as wine ages, phenolic molecules combine to form tannin polymers that fall out of the liquid. This also creates sediment, and it causes the color of a red wine to start to fade and become browner. I typically notice these sorts of changes around the 10-year mark, and a 22-year-old bottle of wine should definitely be showing sediment and faded colors.
Even though it may look like the wine has begun to separate, you don’t want to try to incorporate the sediment back into the wine—it just adds a gritty element, which is why people generally prefer to decant wine off the sediment. There’s nothing that can be done for the fading color, which is just how older wines show.
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