Showing posts with label chardonnay. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chardonnay. 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!” 

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Drink Washington Wine, Rulo!

March is Washington Wine month.

For Seattleites, this means thirty-one glorious days of discounts on Washington wine at participating grocery chains, wine shops, and restaurants. The annual celebration of Washington wine culminates in a four-day food and wine festivity known as Taste Washington. The 2018 Taste Washington program brought together thousands of food-and-wine enthusiasts to enjoy a spread of over 200 wineries and 60 restaurants. There were numerous tasting events and seminars to boot.

For this month's post, I'd like to highlight a Washington winery that is a bit of a hidden gem, Rulo Winery.

Rulo Winery
We discovered Rulo through a friend's recommendation and had a chance to try it with dinner at Whitehouse-Crawford, a dining establishment in Walla Walla. Its Rhone-style red did not disappoint.

Rulo is solely owned and run by winemaker Dr. Kurt Schlicker and his wife, Vickie. They do everything themselves, from vineyard checks, winemaking, equipment cleaning, and tasting room management. Their low-key approach also means that their wine distribution can be quite limited, even within the state. However, if you have tasted Rulo, you will understand why it is well sought after.

Although located among Walla Walla's gorgeous Southside wineries and close to famous neighbors such as Northstar and Amavi, Rulo opens its modestly-decorated tasting room to the public only by appointment. However, once you have that appointment set up, your visit is very much rewarded with a delicious flight and fascinating conversations with Kurt or Vickie.

Rulo is 100% screwcaps
An MD from the University of Washington with a BS in Medical Microbiology from Stanford University, Kurt happily geeks out about wine yeasts and the fermentation process. He is chock full of knowledge and loves the process of coaxing yeasts and bacteria to consume sugar, amino acids, and other compounds to produce a delectable elixir from the grapes.

Kurt makes primarily Rhone-style wines and Chardonnay although he has successfully ventured into varietals that are unusual for Washington, such as Petite Sirah and Grenache Blanc. The other thing that sets Rulo apart from many high-quality Washington wines is the 100% use of screwcaps to counter any problem with cork taint. And if price point has kept you from enjoying high quality wine, you'll love how friendly Rulo wines are to your wallet as they range from $20 to $40 a bottle.

Recently, I opened the 2014 Petite Sirah, and here are my tasting notes:

2014 Rulo Petite Sirah

2014 Rulo Petite Sirah Heart of The Hill Vineyard
Price: $35

When I think of Petite Sirah, Washington is not the first region to come to mind. While originally discovered in France in the 1800s, most of today's Petite Sirah is grown in California. 2014 is Rulo Winery's second vintage of Petite Sirah, and the grapes hail from Red Mountain's Heart of the Hill Vineyard.

On the nose, there is plum and berry. On the palate, the dark fruit carries through with a good balance of wood and a hint of chocolate. It is full-bodied with medium acidity and smooth tannins. The finish is long-lasting.

We paired the wine with lamb burger topped with creamy dill ranch on avocado and onion slices. The full body, tannins, and bold flavors of the wine match well with the gaminess and fattiness of the lamb burger and the savory dressing.

My Verdict: The Petite Sirah is a winner.

But whether it is Petite Sirah, Rhone-style (both red and white), or Chardonnay, Rulo wines are definitely worth trying. I would recommend adding Rulo to your itinerary the next time you visit Walla Walla. If you can't make it out there, check this link out on where you can find their wines.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Chablis vs. Sancerre

Seattleites do not take summer for granted. Following the gloom of winter and lingering drizzles of spring, summer days are long, warm, sun-filled with just a touch of humidity. Spring flowers transition into summer bloom with an abundance of assorted berries, stone fruit, and fresh produce. Seattleites live for the summer!

Summer is also the time when we leave the red wines in the cellar and start breaking into blush and white wines, the perfect accompaniment to a charcuterie spread enjoyed on a boat, in a park or on your deck. My niece and partner in wine, Taylor, and I are having fun picking out white wines from the cellar and tasting through them. This month, I'd like to share our experience with two delicious French whites - Chablis and Sancerre.

Pascal Bouchard Chablis vs. Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Blanc

2013 Pascal Bouchard, Chablis, Fourchaume 1er Cru
I never thought I would like Chardonnay that much till I tasted a white Burgundy. It is not weighed down by oak the way California Chardonnay tends to be. For the most part, I like my white wines crisp and fruity with a nice balance of minerality and acidity. Among the white Burgundies, Chablis delivers that for me. It is summer in a glass!

The Pascal Bouchard Chablis sourced from the Fourchaume vineyard is classified as Premier Cru (second highest classification in Burgundy, with Grand Cru being the first). The wine is fresh with a nice blend of acidity and oceanic minerality, that makes you want to pair it with some fresh oysters. It definitely works wonderfully with cheeses, cured meat, olives, and pickles.

Price: $39 (West Seattle Wine Cellars -

2014 Domaine Vacheron Sancerre Blanc
Most people are familiar with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, especially those from the Marlborough region. However, after a magical encounter with a bottle of 2010 Domaine Etienne et Sébastian Riffault Sauletas Sancerre in New York a few weeks ago, we are going for a French Sauvignon Blanc. (Side note: The Domaine Etienne et Sébastian Riffault Sancerre was creamier, fuller in body, and less fruit forward than what I would expect from a Sancerre Blanc.)

We opened up this 2014 vintage from Domaine Vacheron, which is more typical of a Sancerre Blanc. It was medium-bodied with high acidity, delicious minerality, and green apple notes. Again, I imagine oysters and seafood by the beach with a glass of Sancerre Blanc.

Price: $35 (West Seattle Wine Cellars -

Taylor and I toasting to summer
My Verdict: After tasting both wines side by side, I am struck by how alike they are despite being from different grape varietals. Looking at the map of Chablis and Sancerre regions, they are really close in proximity. Additionally, they lie on the Kimmeridgian Chain, known for chalky soil with limestone and a high content of crushed shells. It is no wonder that both whites have complexity and crisp minerality that make me want to eat fresh oysters! Still the Chablis has a little bit more body and the Sancerre more acidity. Both are great for summer!

To that, we raise our glasses to you - santé!