Let’s talk about white wines aged over lees. You will have definitely heard this phrase before in many occasions, and probably asked yourself what it really meant, but might have never been brave enough to ask. Well, today we will try to clarify everything for you.
Let’s start at the beginning: do you know what lees are? During vintage periods, we harvest the grapes, and the most important initial process that allows the conversion of the grapes’ sugar into alcohol is fermentation. For this to be possible, we count on different yeasts that are capable of and responsible for turning the sugar in grapes into alcohol. Once the fermentation is finished, the dead yeast cells are suspended in the container where this process has taken place.
These cells are what we called lees, and we find them suspended in a container which can be made out of oak, concrete or stainless steel, depending on the winemaker’s choice. Lees can be found in white, red and rosé wines, but ageing over lees is usually done more often for white wines. This is due to the fact that there are other techniques available for us to work on the colour, scents, volume, body or tannins of red wines. In this text, we will focus on the white wines aged over lees that the Martínez Bujanda Family elaborates at Finca Antigua in Cuenca with the Viura variety, and the equivalent wine made at Finca Montepedroso in Rueda, using verdejo grapes for this one.
Depending on the style of wine that we wish to make, winemakers can decide which technique to apply in order to characterise each one. We always explain that our estates stand out because they can be found in the best lands of their respective designations of origin, provided of optimal conditions for grapevine growing thanks to its height, climate and soil. In addition, we can also add the winemaking background and experience of our oenologist Lauren Rosillo to this. Lauren has travelled to different winemaking regions to discover their techniques and methods of work, like New Zealand and South Africa, which stick out due to their wines’ prestige. His decision to age white wines over lees was very clear when he chose to elaborate a white wine with greater texture of complexity, but which maintained the grape strain’s characteristic flavours.
Both Finca Antigua Viura and Finca Montepedroso carry out their alcoholic fermentation processes in stainless steel containers. After this has finished, the ageing and maturing process over its own lees would start in the same container, but what exactly happens now?… If we don’t do anything, the lees will eventually sink down to the lower part of the container by the simple process of settling… However, we use a technique every 7 to 10 days called “batonage”, which is a French word meaning “stirring the contents of a container with a stick” (bâton in French). This allows us to keep the lees in contact with most of the wort for more time than if it was just left to settle. We use this technique with both wines for around 4 to 5 months. Therefore, because of this, these wines are not young white wines that come out to the market in January, but the new vintages rather come out around March-April time.
Ultimately, what does this technique contribute to the wine? Maturing wines over lees not only preserves the flavours and scents of the grape, but also helps maintaining a greater stability against oxidation and, most importantly, provides the wines with volume, texture, body, structure, smoothness, complexity and greater longevity. Our wines can be enjoyed for many years without any problems. This also allows us to see the evolution of fresh fruit to dried or cooked fruit, and as it ages inside the bottle, the wine will develop nutty, honey and ginger notes. In the end, these are wines that won’t go unnoticed and that you will be able to enjoy and pair with your favourite foods.
Now it is your turn. Visit our store, try our lot of white wines and let us know what you thought and if you can notice that greater complexity brought on by their ageing over lees.