Sparkling wine and lees – relationship until the end

Hungary, Champagne, Penedés

I must confess I have not had the chance to taste Koch Szűretlen Chardonnay yet, but I am very curious, and when I have the opportunity, I will definitely taste it. Simply because it makes sense. To release a sparkling wine with the lees makes sense – though some people say the tiny particles of the lees may cause headache.


About 8–10 years ago there was a Hungarian producer who released his sparkling wine with the lees. He was Kurt Taschner from Sopron, and he gave an “instruction to use” to his customers. He advised to keep the bottle upside down for a while before opening it, and certainly people had better wear some protective garment when opening it. Though the initiative was interesting, as far as I know the producer from Sopron did not continue. I could taste a bottle of these products, I can still recall the richness of the sparkling wine (made of Chardonnay, just like Koch sparkling wine). The wine was alive, full of flavours and aromas.


I worked in an extravagant restaurant in London for two years as a sommelier, I do not write the name here, you will understand why. I served a Champagne almost every night, big names, big houses. You might be envy of me, but my situation was difficult many times. Sometimes the guests sent the bottle back complaining about the quality, and on other occasions I advised them to try another bottle. These Champagnes were simply over their peak, they lost their vibrant core, the most important part. And the biggest problem was to claim for the damage: the wholesale company blamed the Champagne house and vice versa. There was no indication on the label, we did not even know when the wine was bottled, let alone the disgorging date. We just suspect that some of these bottles were disgorged years ago and spent long without lees in the warehouse of the merchant. Even though every advanced wine person knows that a sparkling wine will start dying after the disgorgement, so it should be consumed as early as possible.


I learnt this lesson when I moved to Barcelona. I still work here and conduct tastings for tourists, mainly from the US. It is my duty to keep learning, so from time to time I visit wineries, cava houses. Once I visited a small producer called Rimarts. The winemaker, Ernest is one of the most passionate winemakers I have ever met. He explained that he and his family disgorge every single bottle by hand, and they always leave it to the last moment. They only disgorge when there is an order placed. So the importer can make sure that the Rimarts bottles he receives are freshly disgorged – from that point it is the importer’s responsibility to sell it as soon as possible. We can also check the date of disgorgement on the label. Ernest would not agree with selling sparkling wine with the lees, he says it can cause headache.

I am not sure if it is true, but one thing is certain: if you buy a sparkling wine with the lees, you can be sure about the date of disgorgement. It will be when you decide to disgorge it. Just don’t forget to protect your clothes, the lees leave stains!

Szilárd Lázár-Kovács