What is a surly Chardonnay?

Question:
We were enjoying a quiet glass of Chardonnay together when a knowledgeable wine friend mentioned that he liked his Chardonnays surly. I found the wine quite merry and not surly at all. What did he actually mean?

Answer:
What your friend probably said was that he liked his wine sur lie. This is the French way of saying “on the lees”. The lees are the spent yeast cells that fall to the bottom of the fermenting tank or barrel after fermentation is complete. If the wine is not taken off these spent cells, but allowed to lie on them for some time, it picks up a rich, fresh-bread character that can be very attractive. Most good champagnes and Methodé Cap Classique (MCC) sparkling wines are allowed to spend a year or more on the lees, as the wine undergoes its second fermentation in the bottle. This is what gives it the biscuity character that can make these wines so special. And you certainly can’t accuse an MCC bubbly of being surly.