What Is Lees In Wine

In terms of producing wine, there are various phrases that may seem unfamiliar to the typical wine lover. One of these terms is “lees.” As someone who deeply appreciates wine, I am pleased to clarify …

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In terms of producing wine, there are various phrases that may seem unfamiliar to the typical wine lover. One of these terms is “lees.” As someone who deeply appreciates wine, I am pleased to clarify this interesting element of the winemaking process.

Lees, also known as wine sediment, are the leftover solids that accumulate at the bottom of a wine barrel or tank during the fermentation and aging process. These solids consist of dead yeast cells, grape pulp, and other suspended particles. While they may not sound appealing, lees play a crucial role in shaping the flavor, aroma, and texture of the wine.

One of the benefits of leaving the wine in contact with its lees is the process called autolysis. Autolysis occurs when the dead yeast cells break down and release compounds that contribute to the wine’s complexity. This can result in a creamier texture, richer flavors, and a more pronounced bouquet.

Winemakers have different approaches when it comes to handling lees. Some choose to remove them as soon as possible to maintain a clean and crisp profile in the wine. Others opt for longer lees contact, often stirring them periodically, to enhance the wine’s character and add depth.

One classic example of a wine style that benefits from extended lees contact is Champagne. The traditional method used to produce Champagne involves a secondary fermentation in the bottle, where the wine spends an extended period aging on its lees. This process contributes to the complexity and biscuity notes that Champagne is renowned for.

In addition to the autolysis process, lees can also act as a natural filter, helping to clarify the wine and remove any unwanted particles. This can result in a clearer and more stable wine, minimizing the need for excessive filtration or fining agents.

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Another interesting aspect of lees is their impact on wine aging. By providing a protective layer between the wine and oxygen, lees can help slow down the aging process and preserve the wine’s freshness. This can be particularly beneficial for wines that are meant to be aged for several years.

While lees can undoubtedly contribute to the complexity and quality of a wine, it’s essential to note that not all wines benefit from extended lees contact. Light and delicate white wines, for example, may lose their freshness and vibrancy if left in contact with their lees for too long.

To conclude, lees are a fascinating element of winemaking that can significantly impact the flavor, texture, and aging potential of a wine. Whether a winemaker chooses to embrace the influence of lees or not, it is undoubtedly a factor worth considering when exploring the world of wine. So next time you enjoy a glass of wine, take a moment to appreciate the intricacies and complexities that lees bring to your favorite libation.

John has been a hobbyist winemaker for several years, with a few friends who are winery owners. He writes mostly about winemaking topics for newer home vintners.
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