Question from Shelly: I have a bottle of port that someone gave me. It’s got gunky stuff just below the bottle neck. Is it okay to drink?
Reply: Hi, Shelly. Thanks for writing! There’s nothing to worry about when you see that “crust” on the shoulder. It’s quite natural for full-bodied, intense Port wines to throw a significant amount of sediment as they age, particularly when they’re not filtered. In fact, sediment is so much expected and accepted that there’s actually a small category of Port wine called Crusted Port.
What it tells me, is that the person who gave you the Port picked out a good one.
Vintage Port is the top of the line and a tiny part of the total production of Port. It’s released, unfiltered, after two or three years of barrel age and those lucky enough to own one should plan on aging it at home for at least a few more years before drinking it. There are many of the opinion that you shouldn’t even think of opening Vintage Port until it’s at least ten years old. During those years of bottle age, sediment forms and, assuming you’re storing the wine sideways, it settles there in the shoulder.
It could also be a LBV (late-bottled vintage) that wasn’t filtered or a Single Quinta (a vintage-dated, single-estate Port but from a lesser year than normal Vintage Port). And, of course, it could be a Crusted Port.
Dealing with the Sediment
The sediment won’t hurt you, but it’s kind of gritty so here’s what you do: Stand the bottle up for a few hours before serving it, so the sediment goes to the bottom, and carefully pour the wine into a pitcher or decanter, leaving the sediment behind. Don’t worry about the crust clinging to the shoulder. Just pour from the other side. If it’s really chunky you may want to have the wine go into the decanter through a layer of cheese cloth or through a strainer.
Dry, full-bodied red wines may form sediment over the years, too, so same story.
These examples are really the tip of the iceberg for Port wine so, again, you’ve probably got a very nice bottle there! If you’d like to learn more, I wrote a brief post on the most common styles of Port, which you’ll see most often at the wine shop. Cheers!
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