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Dear Dr. Vinny,
Recently, I had a 2002 Italian Dolcetto and a 2002 Spanish Tinto with loads of sediment on the bottom. I thought sediment was the result of tannins and aging, so why was it in these 2002 newbies?
—Shari, St. Paul, Minn.
It's hard to diagnose without knowing exactly which wines you're referring to. You're right that as bottled wine ages, phenolic molecules combine to form tannin polymers that fall to the bottom of a bottle as sediment. But sediment is present during most of a wine's life; dead yeast cells, bits of grapes and seeds, tartrates and polymers are constantly settling to the bottom of a tank or barrel during winemaking.
Most winemakers will try to remove sediment before bottling because it freaks some people out to see cloudy wine. But there are plenty of winemakers out there who will bottle a wine without filtering or fining these particles. I'm guessing that either the wines you had were intentionally unfiltered, or the sediment you're referring to was actually harmless tartrate crystals. These crystals might absorb pigments in red wine and take on dark colors. Again, to avoid the freak-out factor, many vintners cold-stabilize their wines so they can filter out these crystals.
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