Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Creaminess, Richness and Sur-Lie Ageing

You ever wonder how your California Chardonnay gets that rich and creamy mouthfeel that you love so much?  Not all Chardonnays, especially the imports, have it.  So why is that?

Well, the short answer and this is way too obvious, is that it's a stylistic choice that California wine makers have concluded the American public likes.  Rightfully.  But there's more...there are degrees of creaminess, some are even evident in the imports.  Moreover there are other white wine types besides Chardonnay that have the same creaminess so just like the wine, the plot here thickens a bit.

But before we go too far down this road lets also acknowledge that some white wines purposely do not have the creaminess we're talking about and that too is a stylistic decision.  If a wine maker wants to showcase a white grape type's essential flavor purity then the creaminess would just obscure what he's after.  Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio come to mind here.

So let's segue now to what I learned from in a post entitled "Sur-Lie Ageing."

Sur-lie ageing is the up-to-six-week period post-fermentation when the young wine is left in a tank with a layer of yeast solids covering the bottom.  The grape solids have long been removed and the yeast at this point is stressed out from having run out of sugars to convert into alcohol.  It is but a shadow of its original volatile self.  This is also the point where in most cases the white wine should be racked because several unfortunate sulfur-related conditions could ensue if care is not taken.  Nutrients have to be added, the temperature has to be controlled, and the lees have to be stirred daily.

So what's happening here?  Yeast cells are filled with liquid protein that become freed when the cell dies (autolysis) and that protein has an unctuous quality that softens and rounds off the hard tannic and acidic edges that a wine naturally has.  If the wine is properly stirred daily the protein becomes suspended in the wine bringing out complementary flavors and aromas of honey, nuts (hazelnut & almond), toast, and spice.  Moreover the now creamy complexity integrates the fruit, oak, tannins, and acidity into a unified whole.  Additionally sur-lie ageing has a reductive capacity which protects the wine from oxidation in its early stages and even promotes stabilization before bottling.

Sur-lie ageing doesn't have to be a six week long process, by the way.  The wine should be tasted daily and stopped when the wine maker thinks it is time.

So while we started this post talking about California Chardonnay, the wine we really wanted to promote was the 2015 Vidal-Fleury Cotes du Rhone Blanc which is a wonderful example of a French Viognier blend.  From the back label - "The ageing sur lies gives the wine its aromas and roundness."

This Thursday at 5pm Stefan Germain leads us in a tasting of Jacy Marteau Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, St. Emiliano Piedmont Italian Barbera, Little Canyon Ardeche Red Blend, and Chateau St. Seurin Red Bordeaux.  Please join us for the event.

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