19 August, 2010

Wine Word Wednesday: Sur Lie

Champagne Mercier Visitor Centre Epernay

First my apologies for being late in posting this week. We've had some issues with our internet and haven't had consistent access. Special thanks to Starbucks for providing free WIFI. Hopefully, this won't last much longer.

Now on to our word of the week. If you ever read a tasting note or the back of a Champagne or Sparkling Wine and seen descriptors of yeasty, biscuity or toasty, this is because the wine has been aged sur lie.

To understand sur lie, you need to understand how Sparkling Wines are made. First, the grapes must be turned into wine through a traditional fermentation process. In order to turn these wines into sparklers, the wine maker adds a bit of solution of wine, sugar and yeast (called liqueur di tirage) to the still wine which is then sealed in either a bottle or a tank. At this time a second fermentation takes place and the resulting CO2 is trapped. After all the sugar has been fermented, the yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle/tank. Here the'll sit for months or years (depending on the wine maker) and add flavors to the now sparkling wine. This act of aging on the dead yeast cells is referred to as sur lie.

And while we're on the subject of sparkling wines, don't wait for special occasions to open these. They are delicious and refreshing and should be considered whenever you want to open a bottle of wine. They are among the most food friendly of wines. In fact, it's my favorite wine to drink with Thanksgiving dinner and I often start with a glass before any dinner I eat out. So start today, open a bottle to "celebrate" the fact that you learned what sur lie means.



  1. sur lie, a french term? Champagne must be from france no? and sparkling wine is from another area other than France? Thats my little knowledge of sparkling wines hehe. Thanks for sharing as always!

  2. I did some brief sur lie aging from some of my white wines this year. The breakdown of the yeast cells is supposed to impart additional flavors. I'm not sure I got the most out of it because I found some leftover fermentation aromas that I needed to treat so the lees had to go.

    Definitely a neat term to share. Most people wouldn't have seen it anywhere before.