Showing posts with label Burgundy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Burgundy. Show all posts

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Surely, This Wine is Aged Sur Lie

Have you had a white wine or a sparkling wine and thought to yourself, This is a bread bomb!

It smells yeasty and lands on your palate like a liquified brioche - bready and nutty with a creamy mouth feel. If so, there is every chance that the wine you just had has been aged sur lie

Bread by Anton on Unsplash

The Lie in Sur Lie

Sur lie (pronounced sewr-h lee) is French for “on lees.” Lees are basically solid remnants from the winemaking process. There are generally two kinds of lees - gross lees and fine lees. Gross lees are mostly made up of grape debris. They are larger and tend to settle easily to the bottom of the wine. Fine lees refer to the sedimentary residue that consists primarily of dead yeast cells. They are smaller and can be easily stirred into a cloudy swirl before being drawn downwards by gravity.

Gross lees are often removed (or racked off) during the winemaking process. Prolonged contact with gross lees can contribute to off-flavors in wine. The funk may come from decomposing grapes, spoilage organisms, or excess sulfur found on the harvested grapes.

Lees left after racking

Fine lees, on the other hand, bring about desirable texture, flavors, and complexity to the wine. As yeast cells break down, they release mannoproteins, polysaccharides, fatty acids, and amino acids. Together these compounds contribute to the aromas and flavors of brioche, honey, and nut. They also create a buttery creamy mouthfeel while softening the tannins. As a bonus, fine lees are also reductive in nature and protect the wine from oxidation.

Bâtonnage, Stirring Up the Lie

There are two different methods for aging wine on lees: 1) keeping the lees at the bottom of the barrel, or 2) stirring the lees periodically to ensure homogenous and consistent contact with the wine. The latter approach is known as bâtonnage (pronounced bah-too-naj). It is believed that both processes give pretty much the same result with some stylistic differences. See the video on bâtonnage below.

When considering whether to practice bâtonnage, the winemaker has to determine how much lees contact is needed to bring out the desired characteristics in the wine. Major Burgundy house Maison Louis Latour uses little to no bâtonnage on their Chardonnay, believing that the lees-to-wine ratio in the barrel does not always require it. For wineries that choose to practice bâtonnage, they vary in how frequent and how long to stir the lees, walking the fine line between over and under-stirring.

Famous Sur Lie Wines

Sur lie wine aging is believed to date back to the Roman Republic era, as documented by Cato the Elder. In modern winemaking, the two regions famous for aging their wines on lees are Burgundy and Champagne. White grape varieties that benefit from aging on the lees are Chardonnay, Muscadet, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and other crisp white wines with high acidity.

White Burgundy - Made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, white Burgundy is often credited as the originator of sur lie aging in modern winemaking. After harvest, the grapes are pressed, and the juice goes into the barrels without solid grape debris. Alcoholic fermentation starts in the barrels, followed by malolactic fermentation. Since there are no gross lees, the wine does not need to be racked till the next spring. After racking, some amount of lees is retained in the wine for another 10 to 18 months of barrel aging. Bâtonnage is optional.

2022 Maison Castel Chablis, a white Burgundy
Champagne - There are three main grape varieties in a Champagne - Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. With the exception of making a rosé Champagne, the harvested grapes are pressed and clarified to obtain a clear juice. The juice then goes into stainless steel vats to start alcoholic fermentation. The use of oak and malolactic fermentation is optional.
NV Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut
When fermentation is complete, the wine is bottled with the addition of liqueur de tirage, which consists of still wine, sugar, and yeast. This starts off a secondary fermentation to create carbonation. Thereafter, the wine goes through sur lie aging in the bottle for a minimum of one year for a non-vintage Champagne and three years for a vintage Champagne. Bâtonnage is non-existent.

Aging on Lees in Barrel vs. Bottle

Wine aged on lees in the barrel benefits from the aroma compounds that are extracted from the oak. These add notes of caramel, vanilla, and spice. Additionally, there is space to maneuver a baton or any long metal tool to stir up the lees if bâtonnage is so desired.

As for aging wine on lees in the bottle, bâtonnage is virtually impossible. Also, there is also the challenge of removing the lees when aging is complete. This is achieved through a process called riddling, where wine bottles with lees are first placed at 35° angle on a wooden rack. The bottles are then gradually shaken and rotated at an increasing angle, with gravity pulling the lees to the lowest part of the bottles. When the bottles are virtually upside down, the lees that have settled in the bottlenecks are then frozen and removed. Voila!

Riddling rack
Now you have learned about a few things about lees - gross versus fine lees, to stir or not to stir lees, to age on lees in a barrel or a bottle. The next time you encounter a yeasty, bready wine, you may proclaim with confidence, “Surely, this wine is aged sur lie!” 

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Williams Selyem, from the other RN74

I first learned about Williams Selyem by following the celebrated sommelier, Rajat Parr, on Delectable. Raj, an expert on Burgundies this side of the Atlantic, is the mastermind behind Michael Mina's RN74 wine program. (RN74 stands for Route Nationale 74, the old name of the highway that runs alongside many of Burgundy Grand Cru wineries.)
Vineyard along RN74

So when Raj pays attention to a new world Pinot Noir, I do too. And this one hails from the Russian River Valley in California.

From RN74 to SR116

Williams Selyem was founded by its namesake winemakers, Burt Williams and Ed Selyem. Thanks to some excess grapes gifted by a grower in 1979, Burt started making wine from his home in Forestville, a small town on California State Route (SR) 116. Over time and with a few vintages of hobby winemaking under their belts, Burt and Ed went commercial in 1983. As fans of Burgundies themselves, Burt and Ed focused on making Pinot Noir.

In 1987, Williams Selyem turned into a cult winery overnight when their Rochioli Vineyard Pinot Noir beat over 2,000 wines to win the California Fair Sweepstake for the top red wine. With a limited production, the surest way to get Williams Selyem wines was to join the cult winery membership list if you could tolerate a two to three-year wait.

Today, with increased production (although still limited), Williams Selyem wines are a lot more accessible. While I do see the random bottles on retail shelves, they do come at a price premium. 95% of the wines are still sold directly to members. The waiting list has dropped to less than a year with a reasonably low threshold to maintain membership. (You only need to buy at least a bottle in three years.) However, your buying history will impact your future allocation. That allows the more serious collectors to get first dibs on special allocations.

Tasting outstanding New and Old World Pinot Noirs
Russian River vs. Morey-Saint-Denis

Several months ago, we did a side-by-side 2013 vintage tasting of Williams Selyem Bucher Vineyard vs. Domaine Lignier-Michelot Morey-Saint-Denis "En la Rue de Vergy." Same varietal but so different in expressions. The new world Pinot Noir was fruit-forward, perfume-y, and all-around a pretty wine. The old world Pinot Noir was earthy, spicy, and nuanced. Both were simply delicious.

To be fair, Pinot Noir from Morey-Saint-Denis tends to be more powerful and masculine even by Burgundy standards. A more interesting comparison to Williams Selyem Pinot Noir may be Volnay, which tends to be more feminine, delicate, and floral among the red Burgundies. Incidentally, Williams Selyem Pinot Noir often reminds me of a Volnay.

2014 Eastside Road Neighbor
2014 Williams Selyem Eastside Road Neighbor 

Last weekend, as I was dreaming about Thanksgiving, I was inspired to open up another bottle of Williams Seylem. This time, the 2014 Eastside Road Neighbor. (By the way, Pinot Noir is the go-to red for Thanksgiving.)

As usual, the wine was delicately aromatic, full of berries, cherries, and rose petals. The fruit forwardness and floral aromas extend to the palate, accented with some spice and coffee notes. It is medium to full-bodied for a Pinot Noir, with ample acidity and polished tannins. The finish was long and satisfying. As expected, the 2014 Eastside Road Neighbor was a well-made wine that is feminine, elegant, and pretty.

My Verdict: Pinot Noir is an extremely finicky varietal and highly selective in where it will grow well. So oftentimes, a great Pinot Noir tends to be terroir-driven, and the best of them come from Burgundy. However, this stateside version of RN74 is not too shabby either. I would recommend a bottle, if you can find it, for your upcoming turkey feast.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Wine and War

My husband celebrated his birthday in Europe last year. We split the time between Belgium and France so that we each got our fair share of beer (for him) and wine (for me). Aside from the festivities, we also visited World War I and II sites and museums. I learned more than I wish about both world wars, the rise of Hitler, and the Nazi regime. Even as we toured wineries in Champagne and Burgundy, the long intricate underground cellars whispered stories of wars and resistance.

Moet et Chandon's cellars span 17 miles underground
Drouhin caves were an escape route from the Gestapo
Recommended by one of the tour guides, I downloaded Wine and War: The Battle for France's Greatest Treasure by Don and Petie Kladstrup onto my Kindle. The book retells stories of wine families from five prominent wine regions during the Nazi occupation: Champagne in the north, Alsace that borders Germany (and was in the past part of Germany), Loire that is south of Paris, and the two grand regions of Burgundy and Bordeaux.

Behind newly built walls were hidden wines 
The Nazi invasion of France would also mean taking over the country's prized possessions - the vineyards and the wines. Although Hitler was a teetotaler whose habit of adding sugar to his wine would annoy any serious wine drinker, it did not stop him from amassing the best of Bordeaux (Rothschilds, Lafites, Moutons, Latours) and major Champagne houses (Krug, Bollinger, Möet, Salon) to his mountain-top retreat, known as the Eagle's Nest. Needless to say, there were rare Burgundies like Romanee-Conti, Cognacs, and ports that were recovered after the fall of the Nazi regime.

The French survived and resisted the Nazis in ways that only the French knew how. They hid the best of their wines in secret caves and ponds and blatantly showed off the lesser wines to sell to the Germans. (One story involved children collecting spiderwebs to make a new wall look old! It worked as the Germans walked past the wines hidden behind that wall.) Several winemakers were actively part of the resistance, operating from their own cellars. Others negotiated charmingly and formed relationships with more sympathetic German officials. A few families risked their own lives to hide and protect their Jewish friends and American allies.

Whether they were trapped in war prisons or free in the vineyards examining the damage caused by artillery and lack of care, the health of their vines was constantly in the minds of the French winemakers. Many prisoners-of-war were kept strong by memory of their beloved wines. In fact, a gastronomic guidebook, Le Maître de Maison by Roger Ribaud, was conceived in one of the POW camps.

French vineyards now vibrant were in a state of disrepair during the war
History has a strange way of reminding us that if unguarded, humankind has a tendency to blame our misfortune on and target our discontent at those who are different from us. Thankfully, we are comforted by the fact that the human race also has the ability to correct the course, protect those in need, and resist tyranny.

The next time I open a bottle of Joseph Drouhin or Huet Vouvray, I will remember Maurice Drouhin who engaged in resistance activities from his cellar and Gaston Huet who survived five years as a prisoner of war. I will remember we can correct the course.

My Verdict: The book is a great read for wine geeks. The style unfortunately has a little awkwardness in the flow as the authors tried to weave in the various stories they collected. Still I enjoy being delighted by the history behind some of the wines I have tasted or cellared.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Raiding the Cellar - Thanksgiving 2016

Thanksgiving can't come soon enough!

Besides preparing my favorite dishes, I absolutely love wine pairing. This year, however, I will not be shopping for Thanksgiving wines. Thanks to numerous winery visits, too many wine club memberships, and an excessive wine buying habit, my wine cellar is overflowing. So my challenge is to pick a few bottles from my collection for the big meal:

Thanksgiving wine pairings - Cava, Riesling, Grenache, Burgundy

NV Castell d'Or Cava Flama d'Or Imperial Brut 
(Retail: $10)

OK, this is an easy one. You can't go wrong with sparkling wines. They go with everything; as an aperitif with cheese and crackers, a complement to the roast bird itself, or even a digestif with pumpkin pie. In addition, you could concoct all kinds of cocktails - a splash of orange juice, a splash of Campari, and/or a splash of St Germaine. It is like a party in a flute.

I love to indulge in a good grower's champagne or one from a high quality champagne house, like Veuve Clicquot and Möet et Chandon. I love the dry taste of dough and fruit, the weightlessness brought on by a million bubbles.

However, there are many budget-friendly options: like a Crémant or a Cava. Both are sparkling wines made the same way a Champagne is made, but outside of Champagne: in France and Spain respectively. Known as method champenoise, these sparkling wines go through a secondary fermentation in the bottle. This is accomplished by adding a mixture of sugar and yeast, called the liqueur de tirage, to the still wine. This secondary fermentation creates the bubbles in the sparkling wine as carbon dioxide is released.

While I am out of Champagne right now, I do have a couple bottles of NV Castell d'Or Cava Flama d'Or Imperial Brut. The sparkling wine is made of a blend of Spanish grape varietals - Xarel·lo, Macaque, and Parellada. It is probably my favorite budget-friendly Cava, and it will be a great way to start the celebration.

2013 Brady Cellars Grenache
(Retail: $37)

If you prefer a red for Thanksgiving, Grenache is an excellent choice. It is medium-bodied, fruity, and vibrant; a great accompaniment to turkey, ham, and all kinds of Thanksgiving sides.

Old world Grenache-based wines, like Chateauneuf du Pape and Priorat, have a smokey and earthy profile that make great pairings for dishes that are spiced with sage, rosemary, and thyme. New world Grenache is even more fruit-forward and can be very aromatic and easy to drink.

My pick for the meal is the first vintage of Grenache by Brady Cellars.  A relatively young winery that has been focusing mostly on Bordeaux grapes, Brady took a stab at making Grenache in 2013 both as a rosé and a red. Both were wildly popular. The red won him a gold medal at the 2016 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. Very shortly, they were all sold out. I'm lucky to have a bottle of the 2013 Grenache left. Unfortunately, he didn't make a 2014 vintage. But his 2015 vintage Grenache is really promising based on last month's barrel tasting.

The 2013 Grenache is extremely aromatic, floral, and delivers delightfully on the palate. The blend of fruit and spice is elegant. It is going to be perfect with the meal.

2008 Joseph Drouhin Nuits St. Georges 1er Cru Les Damodes 
(Retail: ~$80)

The other red that is often selected for Thanksgiving is Pinot Noir. It is often the no-brainer pairing. Like Grenache, Pinot Noir is often medium-bodied, very aromatic and vibrant with fruit, spice, and earth. A good Pinot Noir also offers a bright acidity that increases its aging potential.

Famous Pinot Noir comes from Burgundy, where the wines are prized for their elegant and complex expression of the terroir. This is particularly important because Pinot Noir is a finicky varietal. It thrives where there is the perfect combination of climate, soil, and topography. Even within Burgundy, you can absolutely taste the subtle differences in the wines from the different subregions.

There are also good Pinot Noirs from the new world, such as New Zealand and the United States. In fact, Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon is often regarded as a nod to Burgundy in terms of acidity and flavor profile.

The pick for the meal is the 2008 Nuits St. Georges Premier Cru from Joseph Drouhin. The Les Damodes vineyard is located near Vosnes-Romanee with an east exposure. With a mix of clay and limestone in the soil, this is a promising wine of great finesse, befitting the special occasion.

2010 Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling 'Rotlay' 
(Retail: $55)

Riesling is the Thanksgiving meal's best friend. The high acidity and minerality of a dry Riesling pairs well with turkey and refreshes the palate as it cuts through the rich gravy. A sweeter Riesling is perfect with pumpkin pie topped with a dollop of vanilla whipped cream.

Known as the noble grape from Germany, the best Rieslings come from the Rhein and Mosel regions.  As one might expect, the Germans have a very organized way of classifying Riesling to help consumers, but sometimes confuse them instead. One of the classifications is based on the increasing ripeness of grapes during harvest; from Kabinett (or cabinet) to Spätlese, Auslese, and all the way to Eiswein (or ice wine). The riper the grapes during harvest, the more sugar will be in the juice.

Unlike many cheap sweet wines, a good German Riesling is complex, with delicious minerality and bright acidity. You can also find wonderful Rieslings in Austria and in the United States, particularly Washington state.

This year, I'm picking the Rotlay from Selbach-Oster for dessert. A wonderful producer, Selbach-Oster defies the traditional practice by combining grapes of varying ripeness levels from the Rotlay parcel into a single wine. As a result, this Riesling cannot be classified although it is closest to an Auslese. A few notches below the Eiswein in terms of sweetness, the Rotlay contains just enough sugar to please the palate and make for a delightful finale.

My Verdict: These are the picks from my cellar. I have updated the notes after opening all of them up. What are your picks? Ultimately, the best wines are the ones you enjoy with people you love. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

French Wine Country, Beaune!

A last-minute change in travel plans recently landed us in Beaune, a historic French town and the wine capital of Burgundy. I was ecstatic, and Beaune didn't fail to impress. At the heart of the most celebrated wine country in the world, Beaune also has five Michelin star restaurants. It's a haven for wine geeks and foodies, and a danger to your wallet.

Allow me to tempt you to visit Beaune with a few highlights of our trip:

Hospices de Beaune

As you take a stroll in Beaune, it is hard to miss the beautiful Flemish-style architecture in the town square. That is the Hospices de Beaune, a hospital founded in the 15th century to provide free medical care to the poor. The hospital continued to be in operation in the same building till the 1970's when the services were moved to a modern facility. A tour of the Hospices de Beaune is a treat, where you get to see how it was run several hundreds years ago.

Hospices de Beaune

Hospices de Beaune wine
The Hospices de Beaune is also known by some as the winemakers' hospital. Over the centuries, the hospital has received different donations, including vineyards, to support its mission. Today, the hospital owns about 60 hectares of premium vineyards.

In 1859, a tradition of auctioning wine from the vineyards to raise money for the hospital was started. The wine auction is held on the third weekend of November (also known as the Les Trois Glorineuses). A portion of the proceeds still go for the care of the sick as well as the modernization and maintenance of the hospital today. The wine will be auctioned primarily in barrels to private and professional winemakers for maturation. Throughout Beaune, you can see bottles of Hospices de Beaune being sold under different winery labels.

Winery Visit, Maison Joseph Drouhin

Drouhin cellar
Because this was a last-minute trip, I didn't manage to arrange for a special winery visit, not to mention that our trip was smack in the middle of peak vacation time for Europeans, even winemakers. Many of the smaller wineries were closed.

Imagine my delight when I found that Maison Joseph Drouhin has a cellar and tasting tours in the town square. A long-time fan of Oregon's Domaine Drouhin Pinot Noir, I could hardly wait to tour the mothership and taste the Burgundian juice.

The tour started in the cellar of the Duke of Burgundy's Parliament building where we got acquainted with a wine press from 1570. It is apparently still useable although not very efficient compared to modern technology. How cool is that? Maison Drouhin uses it only to mark special vintages.

Ancient wine press from 1570

The tour takes you through an elaborate underground labyrinth. If walls could talk, the ancient cellar would have many fascinating stories to share from Roman times to World War II. In some parts of the cellar, there is evidence of Roman presence in the herringbone-style stonework on the wall. You will hear about facades in the cellar which were deliberately strewn with spider webs to hide wines from the Nazis. You will even hear about how Maurice Drouhin (who ran the Maison during the war) hid in the cellar and then at the Hospices de Beaune as he was wanted for being part of the French Resistance. He thanked the Hospices by gifting vineyards, of course!

Cellar wall with herringbone-style stonework

The tour ended with a generous flight of six wines. three white and three red:
2013 Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Millieu
2013 Chassagne Montrachet
2012 Puligny Montrachet Folatieres Premier Cru

2009 Chorey-Les-Beaune
2008 Nuits-Saint-Georges Damodes Premier Cru
1996 Beaune Clos de Mouches Premier Cru (a very special treat indeed!!)

(I lied. The tour truly ended with a half case of Drouhin to be shipped back to Seattle.)

Tip: If you plan to ship wine back to the United States, you don't have to pay VAT, which is a hefty 20%. Use it to pay for shipping instead.

Michelin Restaurants and Cheese Chariots

As mentioned, Beaune has no lack of Michelin star restaurants. It is hardly surprising as they do pair well with the world's most celebrated wines. If you can't partake of the many gastronomic pleasures Burgundy has to offer, you have to at least try the namesake dishes, Escargots à la Bourgogne and Boeuf Bourguignon. The two versions below were from Le Cheval Noir.

Escargots à la Bourgogne
Boeuf Bourguignon
Although technically not a Michelin star restaurant, Le Cheval Noir is granted the status of Michelin Plate, which means good cooking. I have to say that the escargots from Le Cheval Noir were probably the most inventive I've ever had. The shells were so soft and lightly fried that you could eat them, like soft-shell crabs. As for the Boeuf Bourguignon, there are so many different versions out there, all delicious in their own ways, that you may be inclined to try a few.

Wines served with dinner at Le Cheval Noir - 2012 Domaine Chanson Beaune-Bastion Premier Cru and 2013 Domaine Laurent Roumier Chambolle-Musigny 

We did however get into a Michelin star restaurant, Le Carmin, on our last night in Beaune. My sea bream with tomatoes was absolutely delicious. But nothing delighted my husband more than the chariot de fromage, from which he got to choose a few ounces of different cheeses to enjoy. (I called that the cheese dim sum.)

Sea bream with tomatoes
Chariot de formage

Wine served with dinner at Le Carmin - 2008 Domaine Michel Mallard Les Renardes Corton Grand Cru

Saturday Farmers Market

For a town where good food and wine is so much of its soul, it is not surprising that Beaune farmers market is thriving and extensive. Should you be in Beaune over the weekend, you don't want to miss this.

Located in the town square and operated on Saturdays only, you can see shoppers chattering excitedly with vendors amidst bountiful produce, fresh and cured meat, cheeses, and breads. In addition to gastronomical delights, there were artisanal and commercially-produced quilts, hats, bags, umbrellas, and clothes to get you ready for French country living.

Beaune Farmers Market

My Verdict: Having visited different wine countries in the United States, Chile, Spain, and France, Beaune is currently my favorite. It has a small-town feel and is welcoming of visitors. But it is by no means a tourist trap. People go to Beaune to eat, drink, and have a good time. It will be great to brush up on some French, but there are enough people who can speak English to help you get by. If possible, research the wineries and make contact before you visit. The high-end ones are impossible to get in if you are not "in the industry." But when in doubt, Drouhin is a really good winery to visit. Santé!