The first thing that pops in mind when we think of a bubbly wine is most likely to be Champagne. Moreover, we see Champagne as a celebratory drink for special occassions like birthdays and weddings. Dom Pérignon is probably one of the most prestigious brands synonymous to Champagne wines, but little did we know that Dom Pérignon is actually named after a monk who finessed the traditional method of making sparkling wine.
In fact, effervescence in wine was initially considered a fault and was discovered by accident. It wasn't until later on that sparkling wines were intentionally made but even then, cellar workers had to wear heavy iron masks to protect themselves from spontaneously bursting bottles.
Nevertheless, if it weren't for Pérignon, we wouldn't have the pleasure of enjoying wines that taste like the stars. Champagne isn't the only type of sparkling wine that's out there. We have Crémant, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, Lambrusco or just sparkling wine. The differences in these come down to their origins and how they're made.
So how is sparkling wine made? Today, we'll learn the 3 most common sparkling wine production methods.
Méthode Traditionelle Sparkling Wine
This is also know as the traditional method of sparkling wine production. Champagne is the most popular sparkling wine made using this method. Cava from Spain, Crémant from France (but outside of Champagne region), Sekt from Germany, Metodo Classico from Italy and Méthode Cap Classique from South Africa are also made using the traditional method.
To make a sparkling wine, there are two stages of fermentation. The first fermentation converts sugar into alcohol and the second stage is the creation of effervescence by trapping the carbon dioxide that is released as a by-product of fermentation.
So, what defines Méthode Traditionelle or the traditional method? This is when the second fermentation happens in the bottle.
Let's break this down further.
1. Harvesting, Pressing, Primary Fermentation and Assemblage
Grapes for sparkling wines are picked earlier during harvest to retain its acidity to make the base wine, or cuvée. The grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented into wine. This is the first stage of fermentation. The wine is usually dry (no sugar is left) and the alcohol percentage is low (around 10%). It's common practice for winemakers to blend several base wines which derives each winery's unique house cuvée. The blending of the base wine is referred to as the assemblage process.
2. Tirage, Bottling and Secondary Fermentation
Tirage is when yeast and sugar are added to the cuvée prior to bottling. This is necessary for the second fermentation to take place in the bottle. Crown caps (not corks) are used to trap the carbon dioxide that is produced by the yeast consuming the sugar. As a result, the alcohol percentage also rises (to about 12%) and fizz is produced!
3. Ageing and Remuage
This is the lengthy, labour-intensive and expensive stage of méthode traditionelle sparkling wine production. The yeast that was added in tirage stage eventually dies once they've consumed all the sugar (yeast autolysis) and they sit at the bottom of the bottle. Yeast autolysis contributes to the creaminess, biscuity and toasty notes typically found in aged sparkling wines. Remuage, or riddling, is performed to bring the yeast lees from the bottom to the neck of the bottle. Before the invention of gyropalettes, every single bottle had to be riddled by hand to gradually turn and tip the bottle over time to bring the yeast lees to the neck of the bottle.
4. Disgorging, Dosage, Corking and Labelling
Disgorging happens once the sparkling wine has been aged to its requirements. The neck of the bottle is dipped into extremely cold glycol to freeze the yeast lees. The crown cap is then popped off, allowing the frozen yeast plug to shoot out of the pressurised bottle. Some wine is lost as a result, hence the dosage, which is made up of the base wine and sugar, is added prior to corking with a sparkling wine cork and secured with wire. Sugar is added to adjust the sweetness of the sparkling wine. Labelling wraps up the whole process and voilà, a methodé traditionelle sparkling wine.
Charmat Method Sparkling Wine
Charmat method, or the tank method, creates a sparkling wine that retains its freshness and fruitiness. The main difference between the tank method and traditional method is that the secondary fermentation occurs in stainless steel tanks instead of within the bottle.
Tank method sparkling wine production still requires the harvesting, pressing, primary fermentation and assemblage part that's required in the traditional method. However, when it comes to tirage and secondary fermentation, these happen in the tank. Ageing is not typically part of this process, as the style of these wines focus more on the wine's freshness and fruitiness. Once secondary fermentation is finished, the sparkling wine is filtered prior to dosage, bottling and labelling.
This method of making sparkling wine is less labour-intensive and more affordable. Typically, Proseccos, Astis and Lambruscos are made using the tank method.
Forced Carbonated Sparkling Wine
The quickest and cheapest sparkling wine production method typically used for bulk wine production. Basically, a still wine is carbonated using a carbonator to add the fizz to the wine. Essentially, it's the same method as making soda. Hmm, I wonder if a Soda Stream would work on still wine...
The biggest tell-tale sign of a forced carbonated sparkling wine is by its bubbles. The bubbles will be fairly large compared to a traditionally made sparkling wine. Again, think of the bubbles in soda.
There you have it folks, the 3 most common sparkling wine production methods. The next time you pick up a bottle of sparkling wine, you'll know exactly how it's made.
What's your favourite sparkling wine? Let us know by commenting below!