If a wine has a lot of sediment, will that harm it as it ages?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

I recently purchased a half-case of a very good 2001 Cabernet. I was surprised at the amount of sediment it had. I set a glass aside to see if it would clear up, but it didn’t. Seemed to me it wasn’t all tannin precipitates, but maybe some dregs from the bottom of a barrel. What effect might this have on the wine’s maturation?

—Bill H., Three Rivers, Calif.

Dear Bill,

Sediment is perfectly harmless, and it won’t affect how a wine ages—except that most wines will just get more and more sediment as time goes on.

There are two main causes of sediment. The first is that it’s just 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. Some winemakers like to remove most traces of this sediment before bottling. Others think that leaving sediment adds to both the flavor and texture of a wine, and will bottle a wine without filtering (trapping the sediment), fining (adding an agent that binds to the sediment, and then filtering it out), or both. I’m guessing the wine you had wasn’t filtered or fined on purpose, as part of the house style.

The second reason for sediment is that it’s a byproduct of aging. As a wine ages, phenolic molecules combine to form tannin polymers that fall to the bottom of the bottle. I generally start thinking about sediment with wines about 10 years older than their vintage date, so I’m not surprised to hear about your 9-year-old wine with marked sediment.

Though sediment is harmless, it can be unpleasant and gritty, so you should think about decanting the wine. Treat these bottles gently—sloshing them around will stir up the sediment. Leave them still as much as possible, and when you’re getting ready to open one, ideally you should let it sit upright for a day or two in your cellar so the sediment will settle to the bottom of the bottle. Decant it slowly, with the neck of the bottle near a light source (a candle if you’re a romantic, a flashlight if you’re more practical) and stop pouring the moment you see any sign of sediment in the neck.

—Dr. Vinny

Collecting Storage Serving Wine Decanting Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

What are biodynamic wine grapes?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains some of the farming principles applied to …

Oct 18, 2021

How does leftover wine change after a few days?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what happens to wine after it's opened, and how …

Oct 11, 2021

Are you supposed to put the capsule back on an unfinished bottle of wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why wine capsules have little holes (they're not …

Oct 4, 2021

What’s the difference between organically grown and organically made wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains what it means when you see the word "organic" on …

Sep 28, 2021

Is Shiraz a Burgundy or a Bordeaux wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains which wines are labeled as Shiraz vs. Syrah, and …

Sep 20, 2021

I found a bottle labeled "Solera 1845." Is it really 175 years old?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains how the solera wine aging system works, and what …

Sep 13, 2021