Is aged Champagne ruined if there's sediment in the bottle?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I have some decades-old Champagnes that have been properly stored, but if I hold them up to the light, I can see a small amount of sediment in the bottles. Are they ruined?

—Tatiana, United Kingdom

Dear Tatiana,

Absolutely not. It’s common to find sediment in old bottles of wine, including bubbly, and it’s harmless. Sediment naturally accumulates over time when dead yeast cells, natural pigments and tannins bond and fall out of liquid suspension. Or you could be seeing tartrate crystals (also harmless), which can form when a bottled wine is stored at a cold temperature. In either case, the sediment will probably be unpleasant and gritty in your mouth, but it’s not a health concern and it doesn’t mean your wine has gone bad.

To best enjoy a wine that has thrown some sediment, start by standing it upright a few days before you’re ready to open it, to allow the sediment time to settle to the bottom of the bottle. Then be careful not to shake the bottle or disturb the sediment as you’re opening it, and leave the last ounce or two (and all that sediment) in the bottle when you’re pouring. Decanting can help too, even for sparkling wines. And keep in mind that an older bottle of bubbly will probably have noticeably less carbonation, and the flavors can take on mature notes of nuts and spice.

—Dr. Vinny

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