HOW TO SERVE
- Serve at: 6 – 8 °C (43 – 47 °F)
- Glass type: tulip, flute, coupe
Sparkling wines may be a light drink before a meal however there is much more complexity to them that starts with fermentation and ends with the level of sugar. Below we will explore types of fermentation, production methods, sugar levels and atmospheres of pressure in the bottle.
Sparkling wines are often distinguished by the method in which they are produced. Before we go into the difference between these methods, it is important to understand the concept of fermentation as it plays a significant role in the way still and sparkling wines are made.
- Primary Fermentation
- Also called aerobic as it is done in an open vessel, so the wine base is exposed to air.
- Takes 3 to 5 days
- Alcohol levels are low
This stage is focused on the reproduction of yeast. Yeast uses oxygen to synthesize fatty acids and sterols which are chemicals used for population growth (reproduction) and for maintaining the yeast healthy. If the yeast is unhealthy then it can start to produce Hydrogen Sulfide (H₂S) and Volatile Acidity (VA). As a result the aroma and flavor of the wine can be affected. In large quantities these chemicals can stress the yeast which can subsequently lead to the release of more harmful substances, damaging the quality of the wine. In order to maintain the yeast healthy, wine producers use temperature regulations and controlled oxygen exposure.
Apart from reacting with the oxygen, the yeast will also consume the sugar from the wine releasing alcohol and CO₂. Since the vessel is open in this stage, most of the CO₂ will bubble up at the top of the base creating a wall and impeding the oxygen to come into contact with the yeast after a while. The alcohol levels will be low at this stage as the yeast uses most of its energy on reproduction.
- Secondary Fermentation
- Also called anaerobic as it is done in a closed vessel
- Takes 1 to 2 weeks
- The lack of air ensures that the yeast stops multiplying and instead produces alcohol
- Secondary does not necessarily mean second fermentation
Second fermentation can either be the continuation of the primary fermentation which uses the leftover yeast from the first fermentation in a closed air-locked vessel or a separate fermentation caused by adding sugar and yeast to the base sparkling a separate fermentation process to start. The latter is used in the production of sparkling wines. The added yeast will consume the sugar releasing CO₂ and since this happens in a closed vessel, the trapped CO₂ is what will make the wine bubbly.
There are several ways of producing sparkling wines. These will vary in length, price, labor, quality and even grapes suitable for each method.
- Also called: Classic method, Champagne method
- Considered to produce the best quality sparkling wines
- Compared to other methods it is more expensive, time consuming and labor intensive
- Wines produced using this method: Champagne (France), Crémant (France), Cava (Spain), Blanc de blanc (France), Franciacorta (Italy)
1. Primary Fermentation/ Cuvée
- The first fermentation takes place in the barrel
- At this point the alcohol levels are quite low, around 10%
2. Tirage & Second Fermentation
- A blend of yeast and sugar called liqueur de tirage is added to the wine base which causes the second fermentation to initiate.
- It is important to note that the wine base is transferred into bottles where the second fermentation will take place. This is a key difference between this method and other methods where the second fermentation takes place in the barrel.
- When the yeast and sugar are added, the yeast starts to consume the sugar releasing alcohol and CO₂ which causes the fermentation to begin.
- The bottles will have crown caps at this point not corks in order to ensure that the CO₂ is trapped, which is what creates the fizziness
- The yeast eventually consumes all the sugar and dies (dead yeast is called lees). The wine is then left to age on the lees from 9 months to 5 years (for Champagne it is around 1.5 – 8 years).
- The lees is what gives the wine creaminess, richness and texture.
- The longer the wines will age, the more expensive they will be.
4. Remuage / Riddling
- The dead yeast that has formed plus whatever sediment is left must be removed through what is called Remuage (or Riddling).
- This entails the frequent turning of the bottle which is placed at an angle with the bottleneck down.
- This takes about 3 – 4 days and it used to be done manually back in the day.
- When the lees and sediments are accumulated at the bottom of the crown, the bottleneck is dipped into a freezing solution.
- This causes the bottleneck to freeze together with the lees.
- The crown cap is then popped and frozen lees is removed.
- Some wine and sugar is then added into the bottle which is called dosage.
- The bottle is finally corked and labelled.
This method is sometimes called the Martinotti method which is the name of the Italian producer from Asti that invented it. However 12 years later the French Eugène Charmat made some improvements and patented the method under his name.
- Also called: Tank method, Bulk method, Cuvée close, Metodo Italiano, Martinotti method
- Cheaper than then traditional method, aging is optional and the method is not as labor intensive
- Allows for the wine to be made in larger quantities
- Suitable for aromatic and fresh grapes
- Wines produced this way: Prosecco, Lambrusco, Asti Spumante, German (Sekt) and US sparkling wines
1. Primary Fermentation
- The method starts the same way as the Traditional method, with a base wine which is often a blend of different grapes and vintages
- A mixture of yeast and sugar (liqueur de tirage) is added to the base wine
- At this point the alcohol levels are quite low, around 10%
2. Second Fermentation
- Contrary to the Traditional method, 2nd fermentation does not take place in the bottle, but in a stainless steel pressurized tank (hence why this method is also called the Tank method)
- When the yeast and sugar are added, the yeast starts to consume the sugar releasing alcohol and CO₂ which causes the fermentation to begin
- The wine then spends from 20 days (frizzante) to 3 months in the pressurized tank, and up to 6 months for Cru (Cuvée) and Prestige
- Since the tanks are much larger than the bottles from the traditional method and the wine spends less time in contact with the lees, the resulting wine is less toasty and buttery
- This preserves the freshness and aroma of the grapes which is for this method it is common to use grapes like Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Prosecco, Muscat, Gewurztraminer
- After the second fermentation, the wine is cooled down in the same tank and then filtered and transferred to another tank
- Riddling is replaced with isobaric centrifugation which filters the wine from lees and other sediment
4. Dosage & Bottling
- Like in the Traditional method, sugar is added to the wine (dosage) after which the wine is bottled
- Also called Méthode transfer
- Developed in Germany in the 1940s
- Often used by Australian and New Zealand producers
- Essentially same as the traditional method only skips riddling and disgorging
- Less expensive and time consuming than the traditional method as it skips riddling and disgorging
- Label: “Fermented in this bottle” indicates the traditional method whereas “Fermented in the bottle” indicates the transfer method
- Used for non-standard size bottles, i.e. smaller or larger than 750 ml.
- Wines produced this way are almost identical to the ones produced through the traditional method
This method follows the same steps as the traditional method up until riddling. After the wine has spent the desired amount of time in the bottle, on the lees, the wine is then filtered after being transferred into a pressurized stainless steel tank where pressurized filters clear out the wine from the lees and other sediment. This way riddling and disgorging are skipped. After this the liqueur d’expédition (dosage) is added in the tank and the wine is bottled.
The Ancestral method is one of the oldest sparkling wine methods, dating from the 16th century, first discovered in Languedoc. It can be quite risky and it requires the best grapes in order to achieve a great sparkling wine.
This method entails only the first fermentation meaning that the wine does not undergo the second fermentation triggered by the addition of the liqueur de tirage. Instead, the wine is bottled before the first fermentation is completed. After this the rest of the yeast consumes the remaining sugar producing alcohol and CO₂. The wine will then age for a minimum of 6 months before disgorging takes place.
Because of only one fermentation, these wines will have fine bubbles and low alcohol levels of about 8% – 10%. Because this method relies heavily on the sugar coming from the grapes themselves, it means that they need to be riper when harvested. As opposed to the traditional method where the grapes are harvested when they are rather green and the sugar is added during the second fermentation.
- Also called The Russian Method
- Most common in the production of German Sekt
- Cheaper and less time consuming
This method was invented in the USSR as a replacement of the more expensive Traditional method. The purpose was to create a sparkling wine that resembled the taste of those created through the Traditional method but at a fraction of the cost.
This method is a more complicated version of the tank method. After the first fermentation takes place, the liqueur de tirage is continuously added in the pressurized tank, after which the wine circulates through a series of tanks which may contain oak chips or shavings. The lees cling onto the oak chips and give the wine a buttery and toasty taste.
This method simply means taking a still wine and injecting it with CO2. This method does not have a second fermentation, instead the carbon dioxide is an exogenous gas added to the base wine which is already chilled. It works the same way as carbonating soft drinks. This method is simple, cheap and does not create the most refined wines. The bubbles in these wines will be big and evaporate quickly, giving the wine a harsher taste. This method is mainly used for cheap, bulk wines.
Sparkling wines can be classified based on the level of sugar they have. The sugar levels are regulated by adding a liquid which is a mix of sugar and wine in the bottle before it is sealed. This is called dosage and this is how the sugar levels are brought to the desired level.
- Called “zero dosage” or no sugar added
- Pairing: savory dishes, starters, fish and white meat, lobster
- Dry and sour
- Pairing: lobster, chicken
- Dry, a bit sour and fruity
- Pairing: Truffle, fried potatoes, citrus, sushi
- Most champagnes and other sparkling wines are brut
Blanc de Blancs
Made from 100% white grapes, typically Chardonnay grapes. Pairs well with caviar, oysters, creamy soup, light fish, asparagus, avocado.
Has a higher proportion of Pinot Noir grapes which gives the wine more depth, versatility and makes it more food friendly. Pairs well with pizza, spicy food, meaty fish, smoked salmon, Brie, Prosciutto.
- Not as dry, slightly sweet, fruity, aromatic
- Pairing: extra dry Prosecco goes with pastries, cakes, macaroons, sweet things
Dry / Sec
- Light sweet levels
- Pairing: sweet, spicy food, used in cocktails, fruit, crème brulée, popcorn, octopus, chocolate desert
Pressure in the bottle
The pressure inside the bottle measures the intensity of the dissolved Carbon dioxide which determines the style of the sparkling wine, in other words, the fizziness.
- Sparkling wine: defined as wines with 3 or more atmospheres of pressure. Champagne and other typical sparkling wines you can find in stores will have between 5 – 6 atm. For reference, beer will have between 1.5 and 2.6 atm while soda will have around 3 atm.
- Semi – sparkling wines: 1 – 2.5 atmospheres of pressure. Examples: frizzante in Italy and pétillant in France.
Pét – Nat Rosé by Louis Vallon
- Country and region: France, Bordeaux, Vin de France
- Producer: Louis Vallon
- Blend: 79% Malbec, 12% Merlot, 9% Sauvignon Blanc
- Alcohol content: 12%
- Method: Ancestral Method
- Tasting notes: crisp and delicate with aromas of fresh raspberries and red fruit
Fontanafredda Alta Langa
Brut, Limited Edition, 2016
- Country and region: Italy, Piemonte, Alta Langa DOCG
- Producer: Fontanafredda
- Blend: 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay
- Method: Traditional
- Alcohol content: 12.5%
- Tasting notes: crisp with notes of green apple, pear and citrus
Brut Nature, 2017
- Producer: Bedstekilde
- Region: Sweden, Österlen
- Blend: 100% Apples
- Alcohol content: 11.5%
- Method: Traditional
- Tasting notes: green apple, grapefruit, lime, crisp and refreshing
Blanc de Blancs, Organic
- Country and region: Italy, Veneto
- Producer: Casa Marrone
- Blend: Chardonnay
- Alcohol content: 12%
- Method: Charmat
- Tasting notes: green apple, pear, citrus, almonds