Gross Lees vs. Fine Lees

Gross Lees vs. Fine Lees

Did you know there are actually two types of lees? Not only are there different kinds, but they are actually quite different from one another. One kind of lees can spoil your wine in a very short time. The other kind has the potential to take a good wine and make it great by adding flavor compounds as well as smoothing out the mouthfeel. Gross Lees The gross lees refers not to how disgusting the stuff may be but the size of the debris. When you make wine from fresh fruit it is inevitable that some of the grape skins, seeds, and perhaps a stray stem or two will wind up in the bottom of your fermentation container. It’s this chunky style lees that causes the most concern when it comes to determining how long you can let your wine sit before racking. The gross lees that can leave really funky flavors in your wine in short periods of time. As the pile of grape leftovers decomposes it can produce some rather offensive compounds. The gross lees may have spoilage organisms, sulfur, or excess sulfur dioxide left over from the vineyard. Fine Lees On the other hand there is the fine lees. That’s the silky sediment that gently piles up on the bottom of your carboy. This is the stuff that gets stirred up so easily when racking your wine. Primarily the fine lees is comprised of dead yeast cells. As these cells break down they contribute primarily polysaccharides (long carbohydrates) and mannoproteins. Additionally they can bring out flavors of nuts, honey, bread, etc. The proteins can bind with tannins and help smooth out the wine. Sur Lie Aging Aging wine on the lees for a controlled period of time is often done to pick up interesting flavors from the yeast. However, you should know that when wine makers age their wines “on the lees” they are referring to the fine lees. This is a seldom made but pertinent distinction. For more information on this subject check out Sur Lie Aging Explained. You can keep your wine on the gross lees for a period of a couple weeks and be okay. However, you can leave your wine on the fine lees for much much longer periods of time. Further different strains of yeast will impart different flavors on your wine as they decompose as they did during fermentation (here’s a bit more about the affects of different yeast strains of the flavor of wine). So be sure to do your research on sur lie aging and your particular strain of yeast. Check back for more on sur lie aging soon! Photograph of gross lees by: Vagabond...

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Racking off the Lees

Racking off the Lees

Racking is the next step, after the initial more vigorous fermentation. What is racking? Simply put racking is siphoning your wine off of the dead yeast, known as lees, into a clean container. There are two reasons to rack your wine. First it helps clarify your wine but it can also prevent off flavors from the decomposing yeast. Over time yeast and other sediment will precipitate out of your wine and settle to the bottom. The cloudiness will dissipate with each successive racking until you’ve got a nearly clear wine. Nearly because you do sometimes need to fine the last bit of cloudiness out. Getting your wine off of the yeast as it decomposes can prevent off flavors. While some wines are aged on the yeast you really need to know what you’re doing to do this successfully. When to Rack Generally you want rack after the vigorous fermentation has completed. Initially fermentation produces great quantities of gas and is too much for many aging containers such as carboys or barrels. Once this phase is over and much of the yeast has died you would then rack the wine off of the lees and let fermentation continue and its more subdued rate until complete. As sediment collects at the bottom you’ll rack again. Some wine makers rack only once and others will rack four or five times depending upon the flavor profile they’re going for and how clear they want the wine. If, for instance, you’re going to be clearing your wine through fining you don’t have to rack the wine so many times to get it clear. When Not to Rack There are some wines that are aged on the lees and bottled without racking, a process known as sur lie aging. This french term simply means “on the lees”. This process is used on namely Chardonnay, Champagne, and Muscadet. The lees can add nutty, toast, or even hazelnut flavors. Chemically sur lie alters the oak flavor molecules and increases their integration with other molecules. This can tame oak flavors and make them taste like a part of the wine as opposed to an additive. As mentioned earlier you need to know what you’re doing to pull this off. For your first time you might consider splitting your wine and only performing sur lie on a portion of it. Taste your sur lie batch often and err on the side of caution when deciding to bottle. Bottle most of it when you are picking up the additional flavors you are looking for. With a small amount of wine let it sit on the lees and continue tasting to see how long it takes to pick up off flavors. This will give you a good guide line for sur lie wine making in the future. The Light Lees Protocol This “protocol” involves adding fresh yeast back into a completely fermented wine for a period of two to eight weeks. Doing this aids in the releases mannoproteins and poysaccharides into the wine, both of which alter the flavor and mouth feel of the finished product. Light lees is also added...

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