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A Word on Sediment

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Here at Windham Wines we understand that the world of wine can often feel dauntingly complex. With so many regions, grapes, and viticultural styles its hard to keep track of whats going on in your glass. We are here to help! Have a question or concern about something you’ve purchased or tasted at Windham Wines? E-mail us at

Let’s get the ball rolling with a question we received recently from a customer who tasted and purchased a bottle of spanish red:

“We attended the wine tasting last month and really loved some of your wines, so we purchased several bottles, one of which was the Atalaya Almansa 2007…We had friends over tonight and were raving about this bottle, until we poured the last glass.  My future mother-in-law gagged on her last sip due to a hard woody substance in the glass.”

The experience that you had is not uncommon, particularly for Spanish wine. When we had the wine bar open and had a Spanish wine on the menu, glasses often came back with residue, sometimes much larger than what looks like was in your future mother-in-law’s glass. In the days before filtering wines, that was so common that decanting was de rigeur. Decanters were made to trap sediment, hence the Bordeaux decanter’s shape that makes it very difficult to pour the last ounces– you’re not meant to!.

There are two processes in winemaking that are meant to prevent the kind of stuff your future mother-in-law found in her glass: fining and filtering. Fining is meant to “clarify” the wine from the unstable proteins the molecules of which change charge over time and, in so doing, foster bonds among molecules and create larger particles. Most wines are fined and while fining removes the colloids (larger molecules formed during fining through the introduction of oppositely-charged sustances to attract the unstable proteins), it is likely to have tartrate crystals form after the wine is bottled and also be thrown when the wine is poured.  While the latter may look unpleasant, they are harmless to ingest and should not influence the flavor of the wine.

Filtering occurs later and is meant to capture larger particles in the wine, such as skins and stems that may have remained suspended in the wine. In the past 20 years, though, filtering has been the subject of considerable controversy with traditionalist arguing against filtering. In a nutshell, that argument runs something like this: historically we did not have the sophisticated filtering techniques available today and therefore much stuff was left in the wine. That stuff does influence flavors. If we think there are great wines made in 1947 and 1961 (two great Bordeaux years) and we weren’t able to filter as effectively as we can today, we can’t know the extent to which the larger particles left in the wine (and for which we need those decanters) contributed to the ethereal flavors those wines developed over time.  Many wines today are not filtered. In fact, Kermit Lynch, a widely respected wine importer, has long championed unfiltered wines and based his portfolio on them. I could not find out whether the Atalaya is unfiltered. It would not surprise me in the least if it is not.

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