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Snooth User: Mark Angelillo

The Lees' Knees

Posted by Mark Angelillo, Jan 22, 2008.

A friend of mine pointed me at a crossword clue ... 4 letters, "dregs from wine fermentation", starts with L. I had no idea but she figured it out to be "Lees". As I'd never heard of the stuff before I figured I'd scrape the bottom of the wine barrel to find out the dirt on it.

Lees is made up of the pulp, yeast, and grape skins that float to the bottom of the wine barrel as wine is fermenting. The separation of the wine from the Lees (a process called Racking) is a pivotal step in forming the flavors of the wine.

As the wine rests on the Lees it undergoes Malolactic Fermentation which leaves the end product much more buttery. During Malolactic Fermentation the strong Malic Acid in the wine softens to Lactic Acid. Most red wines are left on the Lees to undergo this process. White wines are often racked earlier to keep them more tart, but some white wines are similarly allowed to soften. It's up to the winemaker to decide how the wine should use the Lees. Whatever they do decide will play an important role in how the wine ends up tasting.

As for my awful pun in the title of this post, I don't believe the Lees have such an appendage, however perhaps the legs do?

Does anyone have any other good wine crossword clues?


Reply by Philip James, Jan 23, 2008.

I'm no lees expert, but i think that Chardonnay represents the inflexion point here. Reds generally undergo Malolactic fermentation (think lactic = lactose = milk = buttery).

Malolactic fermentation is also known as secondary fermentation. There's thereofre one that occurs before that, and its called...checking google...Malic fermentation. And...this is where it gets cool...malic gets its name from 'malum' which is latin for apple.

So, back to Chardonnay. 1 fermentation gives tart, crisp, green apple chardonnay's, 2 fermentations give buttery, rich chardonnays. Both are common, but it's fun to spot the difference.

Blog comment by Annie, Jan 23, 2008.

good thing lees and malolactic fermentation doesnt actually have anything to do with lactose, otherwise me and the rest of the lactose intolerant community wouldnt be so happy!

nonetheless, im still not a fan of "Sur Lie" wine. i like my chardonnay fresh and citrusy.

Reply by Philip James, Jan 23, 2008.

Sur Lie - lain on its lees i think. Still it sounds like 'surly', could be offputting to anyone.

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