The real story about wine dregs

I aspire to being an oenophile. An oenophile is a lover or connoisseur of wine. Coined in the 20th century but derived from the Greek words “oinos” (wine) and “phile” (lover of), an oenophile possesses a deep appreciation and knowledge of wines which they use to bore people at dinner parties or business lunches. And they know much better words for the dregs.

However, I think I am only a lowly “winebibber”. Dating back to the 16th century, a winebibber is someone who excessively consumes wine (i.e. drunkard). The word is an imitation of the German “Weinsäufer” and combines “wine” with “bibber” (a drinker or tippler).

However, I do love drinking wine and talking about it. So here are a few words to drop into the conversation at your next dinner party or business lunch.

Not really dregs

It is a bit of a shame that the innocent wine residue, the “dregs” has become a negative. “Dregs” is the sediment or foreign matter that settles at the bottom of a vessel containing wine or other liquors. It has come to mean the most useless part of something.

The dregs are usually made up of two main components: tartrate crystals and spent yeast, called lees.

Tartaric acid is a common acid found in grapes. When potassium also found in grapes binds with the tartaric acid under cold conditions, they form small potassium bitartrate crystals. These settle to the bottom of the bottle or form on the cork. These are elegantly called “wine diamonds”.

Wine diamonds are most often seen in white wine because it contains higher levels of tartaric acid and are held at cooler temperatures. Red wines tend to have a longer barrel-aging process that allows more time for the crystals to settle.

Lees is the more precise term for the sediment or dregs in wine, and much less negative. Originating from the Old French word “lies,” meaning “dregs” or “sediment”. They contribute to the wine’s flavour, texture, and complexity during the aging process.

Wine has legs, heels and a punt?

The droplets of wine forming on the inside of a wine glass after you swirl it are known as “wine legs”. The phenomenon is known as the Gibbs-Marangoni Effect. It occurs due to fluid surface tension from the evaporation of the alcohol. These can also be known as “wine tears”.

The “heel-tap” is the small amount of liquor left in a glass or bottle. First recorded in 1767, its exact origin is uncertain. However, it is associated with being the final part of a drink and hence a farewell.

The indentation found in the bottle of wine bottles is known as a punt. They only seem useful for sommeliers (wine waiters) to hold with their thumb when they pour. Originally, punts were a result of glassblowers pushing up the seam to ensure the bottle could stand upright. Now they are just a design feature (except in sparkling wine where they strengthen the bottle.

Enjoy your wine with your friends and make sure you share your diamonds and have a happy tear!