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01.03.2011

Vinography Loves Sediment In Wine. You Should, Too.

new_bottle.jpgWhile many are celebrating (even fawning) over the new wine bottle design by chef Martín Berasategui that hit the news today, I'm bemoaning the fact that it solves a problem that didn't need solving.

This new bottle design, which is indeed quite clever, introduces a sharp indentation towards the bottom of the bottle that would (in theory) prevent any sediment that was in the bottom of the bottle from being poured into the wine as the bottle neared empty.

The efficacy of the design in the real world will likely be less than perfect, especially when much sediment accumulates in the shoulder of a bottle that has been stored horizontally, and rarely has time to settle to the bottom before being served to someone. Furthermore, much sediment is so fine that, once jostled, it goes into suspension in the wine.

But those realities aren't my reason for suggesting that we needed this new bottle about as much as we need another new reality TV show. No, I'm upset at the fact that people seem to think that sediment in wine is something that needs to be eliminated.

I'm here to tell you that sediment is a good thing. In fact, it's not just a good thing, it's a great thing!

I love sediment. I quiver with delight when I pull a cork out of a bottle to find the bottom of it encrusted with crystals, or dripping with a muddy purple muck. I thrill to see my wine poured into a glass cloudy with a fine haze of suspended particles. I lust after bottles with dark blotchy chunks adhering to the lowest spot where the bottle was in contact with the shelf for many months.

You people who think you need wine without sediment need to get your heads screwed on straight.

Sediment is a sign of many good things. First and foremost, it is a likely sign that a wine has not been filtered or fined to oblivion. These processes strip things from the wine, and while sometimes that can be good (especially if those things would cause the wine to spoil) most of the time it's unnecessary and (in my opinion) damaging to the complexity and personality of the wine. Unfined and unfiltered wines taste more honest, and more interesting, all things considered. Of course, they're not inherently better, and no lack of fining or filtering makes a bad wine good. But given the choice, I'd always rather have my wines unfined and unfiltered.

Sediment, along with the tartaric acid crystals that sometimes form on the cork or in the wine, can also be a product of aging, and should be celebrated and relished as a signifier of this wonderful process. These chunky bits, as I like to call them, are as natural as the wine itself, and while I don't deliberately eat them with a spoon, or shake up my bottles to make them extra cloudy, I have no problem consuming them, and you shouldn't either.

Wine, when made well, is a natural product and should be appreciated as such. I don't like my orange juice pasteurized to oblivion, and or my apple juice filtered to crystal clarity. And I don't need no stinking fancy bottle to keep my wine from showing a bit of the natural processes that made it, thank you very much.

Let's hear it for chunky wine!

Read the full story.

Comments (27)

01.03.11 at 9:07 PM

Yes. A problem that doesn't need solving and a butt ugly bottle. What a waste of human energy. *smh*

Tom Barras wrote:
01.03.11 at 10:24 PM

While I've not ever had the opportunity, I imagine it would be quite instructive to be able to taste/drink/compare two bottles from the same vintage--one filtered/fined, the other, not.

Is your opinion based on such a test?

Andrew wrote:
01.04.11 at 1:04 AM

Sediment in a bottle of wine is perfectly fine and is a natural byproduct of the aging process of many wines, as you point out. But sediment in your wine glass is another matter altogether. Sadly, as you point out, this bottle will probably not be much help in keeping sediment out of the glass.

Dave wrote:
01.04.11 at 7:45 AM

I doubt this idea will go too far since it means bottle manufacturers will need to build a new line, carton makers a new size, shipping costs will increase due to weight, winemakers will need to modify their bottling line, vintners their shelves, and who knows what else. I see it becoming boutiquey at best.

Jeff wrote:
01.04.11 at 9:15 AM

Tom Barras-

This is not a criticism of your comment, but people speak of "fining and filtration" as though the terms represent a discrete process. In fact, there are many different ways to filter (e.g., pad, crossflow, DE,) and a billion different fining regimes. Thus, it's hard to answer the question precisely.
That said, I have tasted unfined/unfiltered wines next to their fine/filtered counterparts (same lot, vintage, etc.). In general, the fined/filtered wine tastes more polished, if that makes any sense (winemakers use that word frequently to describe the mouthfeel and overall presence of fined/filtered wines...). The wines can taste a bit denuded and airbrushed- and sometimes stripped of texture- after fining and filtration.
Certainly, I've had the experience of putting together a wine after a series of blending trials, sending it through a filter, and having the resultant wine come out quite different than the one I sent though.
I understand that some people dislike the idea of "stuff" floating in their wine, but for the most part, fining and filtration are not strictly necessary, and why do something to the wine that it doesn't absolutely require?
Hope this helps.
Regards,
Jeff

Alder Yarrow wrote:
01.04.11 at 9:23 AM

Tom,

The most stark example I've experienced of this was tasting one of the most fantastic Argentine Chardonnays I've ever had at the winery (unfiltered), and then tasting shortly thereafter the filtered "export" version of the same wine, which was awful.

El Jefe wrote:
01.04.11 at 10:28 AM

What Tom said.

To Dave, I do see that this bottle may weigh a bit more, it doesn't seem to be any wider or taller than a regular Bordeaux bottle - at least the aspect ratio looks the same. Bottling lines are pretty adjustable, actually, and carton makers are already used to customizing the carton size to the bottle (if they didn't, you couldn't stack cases and pallets.)

But I agree, it's still silly.

George Vierra, Viticulture & Winery Tech., Napa Valley College wrote:
01.04.11 at 12:24 PM

One of many papers...
Sterile Filtration -- Science vs. Myth September 1994
Steve Roberta,
Graduate Student, Department of Viticulture & Enology, University of California, Davis

The question of whether sterile filtration harms wine flavor evokes much debate and emotion. Although there is little scientific research on the question, filtration proponents rightly emphasize the financial risks incurred by producers who choose not to filter. These risks are real.

Filtration proponents point out that wine flavor components are smaller than the pore size of the sterile filter membrane, and that insoluble filtrate doesn't possess significant flavor, anyway. Thus, proponents argue that there is no reason why filtration, properly performed, should affect wine flavor.

In the other camp are filtration opponents who believe they do taste a difference. They claim filtration strips wine of significant properties and flavors. However, one is hard pressed to obtain from opponents just what these properties and flavors are supposed to be. Nevertheless, they observe filtrate being removed from a wine and associate filtration with the taste difference they perceive. Thus, they conclude filtration is detrimental to wine flavor.

Encouraged by our professors to decide for ourselves who is right, we recently conducted an experiment which asked the question, "does sterile filtration create changes in wine that consumers can taste?" From a supermarket shelf we selected five well-known, unfiltered Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon - vintage 1990 to 1992; and from the UC Davis cellar, one unfiltered Pinot Noir - vintage 1984. Four bottles of each wine were combined under nitrogen to eliminate bottle variation; half of the wine was sterile filtered, the other half was not filtered but was similarly processed.

Over five evenings our trained taste panel, consisting of 12 volunteer judges (none of whom were connected with the department of enology and viticulture at UC Davis) evaluated the wines by duo-trio testing. Two repetitions of each flight of each wine resulted in a mean correct response of 54%. The best correct response of any one panelist was 66.6%. There was no variance by wine, flight or panelist.

In other words, despite skilled and thoughtful consideration of the wines before them, the panelists could do no better than random guessing. We thus conclude that the panelists could not detect a difference between filtered and unfiltered red wines, and from this can infer that there was no detectable difference in wine flavor as a result of the filtration.

Why then the growing belief that sterile filtration is harmful? The power of suggestion and bias are strong. We offer the opinion that many filtration opponents have drawn conclusions by generalizing wines of different producers and vintages, tasted on different occasions or side-by-side, not blind. Simple repetition of filtration critic's assertions over time have led many to accept them as true.

We also suspect that some producers don't filter to please opponents who are influential wine writers. We regularly receive for analysis samples of spoiled unfiltered wine, initially touted by these very wine writers, containing bacterial sludge, as well as fining related polysaccharide and protein clouding, and so forth.

We note the great difficulty encountered in filtering the experimental wines. We suggest that it may be convenient for some producers with difficult or poorly-made wines to suddenly adopt the belief that unfiltered wines are "better".

We also suggest there may be temporary disruption to wine flavor equilibrium as a result of processing. Tasting a wine immediately after filtration, or a few days later, may produce different results. We note our own differing perception of the experimental wines between the time of filtration and four days later.

We note also the many award winning wines of the world which are sterile filtered; the popularity of mobile sterile filter services to Bordeaux chateaux which tout their lack of filtration equipment; and we again remind producers of the financial risks incurred in not filtering.

In conclusion, we see no evidence to support the assertion that sterile filtration harms the flavor of wine. There remains no definitive study on filtration effects, and questions remain about the changes in aging potential, the role of possible oxygen uptake and oxidation, and the effect of prefilter aides on wine. Industry should support additional research, to obtain hard answers to difficult questions, and to protect itself. The trend toward unfiltered wines could easily backlash with a few publicized spoilage incidents by anti-alcohol forces.


Alder Yarrow wrote:
01.04.11 at 2:07 PM

George,

Thanks for the comments. Firstly what I find that filtration robs from wine is texture, which plays into the sensation of the wine in the mouth, though I am one of those who also believe that it changes the flavor as well, both immediately, and in the long term.

I appreciate your abstract from this study, and my first reaction is to want to know who the "12 trained taste panelists" were, though I am sure they were not just random UC Davis students. The text you pasted in cites that many of the world's award winning wines are indeed sterile filtered. But perhaps as many aren't, so I'm not sure where the paper is going with that line of argument. Nor am I sure I buy the "wine writers made me do it" argument, since the most powerful wine critics in this country (Parker and Spectator) aren't known for proselytizing unfiltered wines over filtered ones.

Personally, I'm not religious about filtration, and I don't think that it necessarily means a wine is less good, but many of my favorite wines are unfiltered. I also admit to thinking along the following lines: isn't a winemaker who can make a great wine that is unfined and unfiltered and have it last and improve over decades a better winemaker than someone whose finished wine has "bacterial sludge" in it that must be removed lest it ruin the wine? Surely you wouldn't assert that those folks who don't filter (and who have never filtered) are merely lucky?

Doug Wilder wrote:
01.04.11 at 3:21 PM

One would think a chef at a Michelin Three star would have more creative things to do than design a 'better' wine bottle. Over the last 150 years, possibly longer, the punt in the bottom of the bottle has sufficed to accumulate the bulk of the free solids in wine. Has there been an outcry from service professionals or wine critics that there is a problem with sediment in their wines ruining a dining experience? It is true that some of the most highly prized wines in the world are non-filtered purposely. The likelihood of Ch. Margaux, for instance, changing their package to address this issue is about as likely as Ferrari installing curb feelers at the factory. If he is looking for something that wine lovers will remember him by perhaps he could develop the perfect asparagus/wine match.

Rich wrote:
01.04.11 at 3:41 PM

Is everyone here always this ..... ? I am pro flavor, and therefore, pro sediment.

Sean Spratt wrote:
01.04.11 at 4:24 PM

Filtration is one of the most misunderstood technologies in the wine world (both by consumers and winemakers alike).

Just to point out....there are huge variations in filtration technology (membrane, cross-flow, depth, lenticular, RDV, etc...), and filtration resolution (sterile, polish, coarse, etc...). The effect they have on a wine from an organoleptic standpoint is as varied as the technology, the resolution, and the manufacturer of the filter.

Alder, I think you raise an excellent point that if a winemaker can make a perfectly stable wine that ages well without filtration it suggest good winemaking. Might it also be possible that that is the same reason people enjoy 'unfiltered' wines more? Not necessarily because they are unfiltered, but because they have to be well made and might then have more texture and flavor?


Tom Barras wrote:
01.04.11 at 8:00 PM

None other than Kermit Lynch discussed this topic in his Adventures . . ." book.

His "theoretical" position was confirmed at a gathering of Vieux Telegraphe family members. (pages 140 f.f.)

Ned wrote:
01.04.11 at 9:55 PM

Naturally this discussion very quickly began to discuss two different questions as if they one. That seems to happen all the time these days in public discourse.

Whether to filter wines before bottling is one question, whether to seek to get clear wine in your glass is another. Sure they are related, but not inseparable. I prefer clear wine in my glass. I've tasted enough settled and decanted wines vs the wine unsettled and cloudy, side by side to be confident about that. I'm fine with wineries shipping unfiltered and/or unfined wine. The tricky part is planning ahead long enough in advance to stand up a bottle likely to throw sediment in order to settle it enough to pour it off successfully. Depending on the wine that could be a day or two or a week or two.

This bottle does look like it would assist in preventing sediment in a vertically settled bottle from mixing in. I doubt consensus as to the necessity of that will be arrived at.

1WineDude wrote:
01.05.11 at 8:55 AM

The big question for me is, how many people are patient enough to age a wine to the point where sediment is a big problem? Not many.

Of course, some newer wines also can have sediment, but I agree with you - bring it on, I love it (and I need to develop decanting skillz anyway...)

01.05.11 at 9:41 AM

Very well said, Alder.

My sediments exactly. ;-}

But, please, please, leave those sediments in the bottle. They do not belong in the glass.

norman g wrote:
01.05.11 at 12:14 PM

Doug - why so harsh? The guy had an idea and made a new bottle. Is it earth shattering? Probably not but jeez not sure what is the big deal pro or con.

I will also remind you that there is no consensus on why the "punt" was added to bottles in the first place. While sediment may be one reason there are several other assertions - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wine_bottle

As far as someone saying they doubt bottle manufactures will change their lines - uh have you seen how many bottle types there are out there? Bottle types and shapes are changed left and right. Manufactures have no issues changing their lines to match demand and design.

Bill Dyer wrote:
01.07.11 at 8:56 AM

Over a long period of time (at least 10 years) in a winery where I was responsible for the production, I had a policy that whenever we filtered we would take samples from the inlet and outlet of the filter. This was a pad filter. Crossflows were not in common usage then. Often the filtration was through two grades of pads, using a crossover plate, in which case an additional sampling point was the outlet in between the grades of pads. We always took two sets from each sampling point, one to taste soon after the filtration, one to taste when the wine was released to the market place. We always tasted blind, with some sort of difference tasting such as duo/trio. Among the general conclusions: usually the wine "took a hit" from the filtrations, but recovered significantly when re-tasted months (or years) later. An exception was when the wine had some microbial problems (such as Brett)--in those instances the filtered versions tasted better than the unfiltered versions which continued to get nasty in the bottle. But wines that were free of offending microbes certainly weren't improved by the filtration, and often there was something missing on the palate, less texture, especially when the filtration was in the sterile range-- as if some flavor component were removed. We avoided the obvious detrimental effects of filtration that come from failing to prepare the pads properly--so no "cardboard" or "paddy" effects. So my take away lesson that I use to this day is test your wine for microbes and only filter if you have to. Bottling unfiltered is the default position, and the usual case if good cellar practices are followed. Non ML wines are an exception of course. As to clarity issues, gravity works quite well, and it's free--just let the wines settle clear.

Asgar wrote:
01.10.11 at 3:16 AM

This bottle may not necessarily help with the fine sediments, but has clearly created discussion in the market place which overall is good for the industry.

rs wrote:
01.10.11 at 8:23 AM

Wine should be shaken, not stirred. My preference for removing objectionable sediment, an oxymoron in itself, is to use a used coffee filter to add a bit of bouquet to the wine, just in case.

Matt wrote:
01.10.11 at 12:18 PM

Regarding the paper (abstract) provided by George -- the study does not address a far more important question regarding sediment: what effect does it have on the aging of the wine.

I am a chemist (although not an enologist) and suspended particles are well known in chemistry to provide a catalyst (surface) on which reactions can take place that might not otherwise happen, and they are also well known to nucleate crystallization of soluble things (like the tannins and tartrates that make up a large fraction of the sediments in wine).

What needs to be compared is a wine that has been filtered/fined AND AGED against the same wine of the same age that was not filtered/fined.

Tom Farella wrote:
01.10.11 at 12:38 PM

I love this topic but think the bottle design "solution" has a major pitfall and reveals something inherently problematic with wine storage. We, in the U.S., store our wines in warehouses cork-down, except for those few wineries that have the luxury of lay-down cases. Lay-down cases can't be stacked to the rafters like their cork-down counterparts. In France, most of the product I encountered was stored lay-down (in fact, stored unlabeled in lay-down bins and only labeled before shipment to the customer in lay-down cartons). The economics are much different for storage but that is their standard and ours is cork-down.

All this to point out that, as a winery who is 100% unfined and unfiltered for our reds, the sediment accumulates on the bottom of the cork while in the warehouse. This presents a problem unless the end-user lays it down in their wine rack or lets the sediment fall to the bottom a day or 2 before opening. I have to tell this to our customers so they are aware there may be some of this glop on the cork if they pull it out of the cork-down box and open it right away. For restaurants, this could especially be a problem. If I was a restaurant owner, I would store all wine boxes on their sides or invert the cases so they are cork-up for near-term use just to be safe.

So, sadly, the culture of unfiltered wines in the U.S. has inherent problems that this awkward bottle will not help, for the most part. Also, I think there would be a weak spot in the glass there. The punt in the bottle is handy for sediment but is more for structural integrity (and heightens the appearance) so the bottle design somewhat defeats the purpose, I would think.

On the point of filtration and fining, in my experience you can harm a wine much greater with over-zealous fining than a careful filtration. Also, I have done a side-by-side comparison of filtered vs. non-filtered on our 2006 Merlot and found that the differences were minor at first but then grew after several hours where the unfiltered wine clearly had more mid-palate.

Cheers!

Susan Jacobs wrote:
01.11.11 at 6:44 PM

Arent we confusing two very distinct processes? I agree entirely that it is hard to believe that the process of filtration by itself can significantly alter the concentration of molecules that contribute to aroma and taste of wine. On the other hand, it is entirely possible, indeed probable, that the addition of fining agents such as bentonite, egg white, and even charcoal, will absorb such molecules. Thus, the experiments quoted in the study which involved simply filtering and tasting wines, would not be likely to show any difference they did not. To test this rigorously, one would have to fine and filter half the wine in a barrel, and compare it after bottling and aging to the other half of the wine in that same barrel. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been done. I would be interested to hear whether anyone has at least studied the ability of these fining agents to adsorb aromatic components of wine.

jamie wrote:
01.16.11 at 5:28 PM

I don't mind sediment- leftover grape skins or whatever-if the wine is good what's it matter? Wine is so good- it's not like finding bones in something boneless or something that's not naturally in the food.

01.21.11 at 12:50 PM

I am so glad to see someone addressing this issue. Weve featured a couple of wines over the past year that ended up triggering quite an uproar from a handful of our members who were not used to seeing sediment and didnt know what to think. A great example of this would have to be the 2005 Opolo Petite Siraha really fabulous wine that happens to include a little bit of crystallized tartaric acid.

Sediment, as you mention, is merely a sign that the wine was really well-extracted, and probably ageda definite good thing.

Anonymous wrote:
05.07.11 at 9:57 PM

The initial sediment which forms in wine appears during the fermentation process and is called "lees." The lees sediment consists of dead yeast cells, proteins, stems, bits of skin, and other solid matter that has settled to the bottom of the fermentation tanks.

anonymous wrote:
07.08.11 at 2:37 AM

Wines that might include sediments are aged red wines that are around or over 10 years old. The presence of this material helps give the wine character and complexity.

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