What to Do About Sediment in Wine


Have you ever gotten to that last sip of a glass of wine only to get a mouth-full of sediment? Instead of savoring that last sip, you end up spitting it out. An unpleasant way to finish.  And that's what recently happened to me as shown in the photo. But it doesn't have to go that way.

As discussed last time, lees (dead yeast cells and bits of grape seeds and solids) are natural in the wine making process and often desirable to be left in the wine during fermenting or aging.  This process is most common in red wines. Some wine makers will then filter out these solids (fining or racking), but others prefer to leave them in the wine as it's bottled to continue to add flavor.

There are several ways to avoid getting a mouth full of these particles in your glass of wine.

The first way is try to keep the solids in the bottle and not in your glass. If the bottle has been standing still and upright for a couple of days, the solids will have naturally fallen to the bottom of the bottle. As long as you are careful to not stir them up while opening the bottle and are gently tipping the bottle while pouring, the sediment should stay in the bottom of the bottle. But why take the risk.

The most dependable way is to do your own filtering before serving. There are several inexpensive devices on the market for doing this. The best one is a combination filter/aerator funnel. You simple hold this funnel above your decanter (or any other suitable container) and pour the wine through.  It has a micro-fine filter built-in that traps all those undesirable particles while allowing all the wine to pass through. As the wine exits the funnel, it gets aerated (exposed to air) which will usually help a young red wine. You'll then find all those undesirable particles trapped in the bottom of the funnel.  Not lurking in your wine glass.

While sediment is not harmful if consumed, it does significantly detract from a nice glass of wine.  So, filter and forget! Cheers!


How Lees & Battonage Are Used in Wine Making

A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed a Sauvignon Blanc from Chile. The tech sheet that came with it described how the wine was made including the terms 'maceration,' 'lees,' and 'battonage.'  We took a brief look at 'maceration' last time where, simply put, it is a term for allowing the grape skins, seeds and stems to soak in the juice (the must) either prior to fermentation or during fermentation.

After the yeast does its job during fermentation by 'eating' the natural sugar in the must and transforming it to alcohol, fermentation is complete and the yeast dies. These dead yeast cells that remain in the wine, along with bits of grape seeds and solids, are called 'lees.'

At this point, the lees can either be removed from the wine (by racking or fining methods) or they may remain in the wine. If they are left in the wine, they will break down and release compounds that interact with the fermented wine. This interaction can create additional complexity, aroma and flavor.

But, with time, the lees tend to settle at the bottom of the aging vessel. If the lees are just left in the bottom of the aging vessel, they can clump up and actually become detrimental. So, if a wine maker wants to age their wine 'on lees,' they need to periodically stir the wine to keep the lees mixed in with the aging wine. Battonage (or Bâtonnage) is this periodic stirring of the wine. Battonage essentially helps redistribute all these positive lees compounds into the wine, making sure all the wine comes in contact with them.

The term battonage derives from the stirring stick, a baton.  The baton is placed in the top opening of a barrel (bung hole) and gentle rotated within the barrel to stir the wine and re-distribute the lees during aging.

So, there you have it. Many wine makers use maceration, lees and battonage in their wine making process. A bit technical, yet important parts of making all the great wines we enjoy. Cheers!