Here is the thirteenth in our series of Another Wine Bytes; information about wine you can use to impress your friends (but not in an obnoxious way, of course!)
Who are the Lees and Why are They In My Wine?
Green-gold. Deep, intensely perfumed aromas of smoked meat, lees, orange, fig and truffle, with a suave floral underpinning. Fleshy pit and orchard fruit flavors are firmed by juicy acids and complicated by dried mushroom and citrus pith qualities. Offers the complexity, nuttiness and power of a serious white Graves, with excellent finishing breadth and spicy precision. From Bedrock Wine Co.’s website
Coincidentally, to pair with our cod and julienne vegetables, Joe chose a Muscadet from Chateau La Tarciere, that has on the label, and in raised letters on the bottle “Sur Lie.” If you haven’t studied wine making you probably have no idea what the aroma of “lees” or sur lie means. I know before Joe began his studies with ISG, neither of us knew either.
Sur lie (soo’r lee) is a French term that translates as “on the lees,” or the aging of wines on the deposit of dead yeast that forms after primary fermentation. Sur lie aging gives the wine a toasty quality and enhances complexity. The “lees” can also be carried by the action of “fining,” to the bottom of a vat of wine after fermentation and aging.
Normally the wine is transferred to another container, leaving this sediment behind. This process is called racking. Some wines, including our Muscadet, are sometimes aged for a time on the lees, leading to a distinctive yeasty aroma and taste. The lees may be stirred in order to promote uptake of the lees flavor, this is called batonnage.
The phrase “on the lees” also appears in the King James version of the Bible.
And in this mountain shall the LORD of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. Isaiah 25:6
Our friends at Twisted Oak “stir the lees” in their 2007 Sierra Foothills “Ruben’s Blend.”
Upon reaching the winery, the fruit was gently crushed and then allowed to soak on the skins for a short time (1 hour) in order to gain some complexity. After an hour, the fruit was pressed to remove the clear juice from the skins and seeds. After pressing, the wines were inoculated with a Rhone yeast strain and the yeast monitored throughout fermentation to ensure optimal yeast viability. The Viognier and Roussanne were barrel fermented in 25% new French oak which adds to the mouthfeel and completes the nutty flavors. The Marsanne and Rolle were fermented slowly at a temperature of 58 degrees. After the end of primary fermentation, we began stirring the lees in the barrels vigorously every week to enhance mouthfeel, for an additional 8 weeks and the wine was bottled after a full 6 months in wood.
So the next time someone says “sur lie” you’ll know what they’re talking about! And that’s this week’s Another Wine Byte.