January 10, 2011

A Stirring Tale


    The act of stirring the lees in vat or barrel. Helps avoid production of hydrogen sulphide and facilitates absorption of wood tannins and lees flavours
There are two schools of thought on stirring wine. One is to stir often; the other is to not stir at all. The decision to stir or not stir a ‘working’ wine will encourage the development of certain characteristics. In the case of a red wine, the wine will be vigorously manipulated during its first week or so of fermentation to keep the skins and grape solids in contact with the juice. A white wine might also be stirred during this primary stage of fermentation to help distribute the growing yeast cells and to make sure they are exposed to the nutrients in the juice. Some winemakers will stir a working wine up to three times a day.

Once fermentation has pretty much finished, stirring takes on a different mission. The majority of wines are racked into clean vessels and left alone to mature in peace. Some purists even insist that disturbing the wine during this stage can bruise it (whatever that means). If a wine is undergoing malolactic fermentation, which is frequently done with red wines and with chardonnay, then stirring the lees will help foster the malolactic bacteria and bring out the desired soft ‘sur lie’ quality.

Lees are dead yeast cells, and mixing them into the wine helps integrate toasty and biscuity qualities into the wine. You’ll find this character in sur lie chardonnay, vinho verde, and quality sparkling wines, especially champagne. Sometimes the wine is bottled directly from the barrel, in which case the label may say “Bottled on lees”or “Unfiltered” and the wine may show a trace of fine sediment. The resulting wines generally show more character than those that have not undergone lee stirring.

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