In this edition of Ask Missa, Director of Sommology Missa Capozzo is tackling your “weird wine” questions—from what to make of wine sediment and wacky cork discoveries, to all the hubbub about letting a wine breathe. Are you ready to get to the bottom of this bottle with us? Let’s talk weird wine!
I’ve heard that wine can sometimes contain sediment. What is the sediment in wine, and does this mean I should not drink it?
Sediment in wine is perfectly normal! It can occur during winemaking or during aging in the bottle. Sediment can be any combination of yeast cells, leftover grape solids (skin, seeds, stems), tartrates, and any other leftover solids. While sediment is more often seen in red wines, it can be found in whites, too. Typically, the sediment you will find in a white wine is made of tartaric acid crystals, also known as wine diamonds. They are absolutely harmless. When tartrates chill to a certain temperature, they will form solid crystals. Many winemakers choose a process called cold stabilization before bottling, which will chill the wine enough to form these wine diamonds, which can then be filtered out of the wine.
The easiest way to remove sediment is to pour your wine through a small screen filter, like the one included with our wine aerator. It’s a tiny sieve that will catch any particles. There are other options such as carefully handling a bottle of wine that contains sediment—from removing it from the wine rack, to removing the cork, to gently pouring the wine into a decanter without disrupting the sediment. Note: This requires a steady hand!
Does a bottle of wine need to “breathe?” If so, for how long?
Let’s start by defining what is meant by the term, breathe. Breathing simply means to expose a wine to oxygen for a period of time (typically an hour or so), or to let it aerate—and it typically relates to red wines. This releases aromas and flavors, allowing the wine to express its character. Some wines, especially younger wines, can withstand decanting more than more fragile wines, such as those with quite a bit of age on them. In addition, some varietals can withstand more aeration, where others might not benefit quite as much. For instance, a Barolo is a very big, expressive, tannic red wine that can withstand quite a bit of aeration, up to two or more hours. A softer Pinot Noir, or even a Beaujolais, on the other hand, is much more delicate, in which case little to no aeration is needed. I suggest a little research into the wine, but when it comes right down to it, personal preference is always a main deciding factor. White wines typically do not need to breathe, as they do not contain the same tannins and phenolics that a red wine does.
An aerator is a useful tool that allows you to quickly achieve desired results. Wine that is poured through an aerator has a similar effect to decanting a wine for an hour or more, essentially saving time. An aerator, like the Magic Decanter, allows several people to enjoy the same bottle of wine in whichever way they prefer, either aerated or un-aerated.
My last bottle of wine had crystals on the cork—what were they? What other cork conditions might occur with wine?
Those crystals you see are called wine diamonds, or tartrates. They are simply solid crystals of tartaric acid that appear when a wine reaches a certain cold temperature. They are sometimes filtered out, and other times they aren’t. Wine diamond are quite normal and completely harmless. The wine might appear somewhat smoother and less acidic in the presence of these wine crystals, because some of the tartaric acid has become solid. The bottomline is that you still have a perfectly healthy wine ready for drinking.
Finding mold on a cork is another cork condition seen in aged wines. You might be surprised to know that cork mold is a good sign that wine has been stored properly—in dark, somewhat humid conditions. These small spots of mold are harmless to the wine. In fact, you could find extremely old bottles of wine, kept in a wine cellar for decades, covered in mold! If you find yourself with a moldy cork, simply wipe it off and proceed to enjoy your fine wine. If you open a bottle of wine and the wine smells or tastes moldy or musty, you have a problem with the wine itself.
Do you have a question for our Director of Sommology? Send it our way at [email protected]. And watch for our next video wine chat on our YouTube channel, where we’ll demonstrate the Traveling Vineyard Magic Decanter discussed in this post!