How is sparkling wine made? In many ways
We all love the opening pop (or ‘prsst’ when it is opened gently and safely) and the spirit of celebration that goes with this style of wine. A sparkling wine has gas trapped in the bottle, usually the result of a second fermentation created by adding yeast and sugar to a still dry wine, but not always. Feely Sparkling Brut Rose Methode Traditionelle is made in the traditional way via a second fermentation in the bottle, like Champagne. You can also find it in the preset EU case selections that include EU shipping.
Method 1: Carbonation
It can also be the result of manufactured carbon dioxide (CO2) piped into the wine, like what you do to drinks with a soda stream at home. ‘Manufactured’ cola style sparkling wines are usually the simplest and least expensive.
Method 2: Tank Method
There are some techniques in-between, like prosecco, where the sparkle is usually from a second fermentation in a tank. Another alternative is a ‘pet nat’, a natural or ancestral method where some of the original gas of the first alcoholic fermentation is trapped in the bottle. The ‘pet nat’ style has been made fashionable by the natural wine movement.
Method 3: Méthode Traditionelle’ (traditional method) like Champagne
We usually associate the best quality sparkling wines with the ‘méthode traditionelle’ (traditional method), second fermentation in the bottle, examples include Champagne, crémant de Bordeaux and other crémants of France. Second fermentation in the bottle brings extra ‘biscuity’ or brioche flavour because of lees maturation and adds complexity to the end-product. This method also produces a finer bubble than manufactured CO2. The grand dame of sparkling wines is Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Champagne. Champagne is a wine region covering around 30 000 hectares (74 000 acres) thus of similar size to Burgundy and about a quarter of the size of Bordeaux. A Russian client recently told me recently that Champagne is one of only a handful of French wines that has its own word in Russian, ‘Shampanskoye’.
The biography of Veuve Clicquot called ‘Widow Clicquot’ by Tillar Mazzeo is a great read and touches on the importance of the early trade with Russian Csars in building the brand Champagne.
Champagne starts life as a still dry wine and through the process of the second fermentation in the bottle ends up sparkling. The ‘dosage’, adding a small amount of the original wine, usually with sugar added to it, back to replace the lees removed at the end of the second fermentation, means it can end up as anything from no sugar added ‘brut nature’ or ‘zero dosage’ to sweet (‘doux’ – more than 50 grams of residual sugar per litre after dosage).
The process starts with a finished dry (usually acidic, dry and lowish alcohol – max 12%) this wine is encouraged to do a second fermentation in the bottle after the addition of yeast and sugar (known as tirage in French). All must be certified organic for it to be organic sparkling wine. Once the second fermentation is finished the CO2 remains trapped in the bottle but so do the lees (yeast waste) which must then be removed. This begins with riddling (remuage in French) which means that the bottles are turned with the neck downwards and lightly shaken to move the lees to the neck of the bottle thanks to gyro-pallets slowly over time.
Once the lees are settled in the neck – that section of the bottle is cooled so the lees form a small block of ice. The bottles are turned upright; and the temporary closure (a crown cap) is removed so that the pressure in the bottle pushes the ice plug of yeast waste out. The missing volume is re-filled with the original wine and a dose of sugar if required (called dosage) and fitted with a sparkling wine cork and metal cage. The process to remove lees is called disgorging.
The wine can be stored on the lees – sur lie – under carbon dioxide pressure for a long time before disgorging takes place, to get a more mature character. The requirement for non-vintage Champagne is at least 15 months of storage on the lees, and for vintage Champagne at least three years. For crémant de Bordeaux it is 9 months.
Even Brut – dry sparkling wine – usually has a small amount of sugar, ranging from 6 to 12 grams per litre (up to around 2 teaspoons equivalent per bottle) added in the dosage. Beware the term ‘sec’ that we associate with dry in still wine means 17-32 grams of residual sugar when used on sparkling wine.
The Grape varietals used for Champagne
Champagne is usually white but is made from a white grape and two red grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot noir and Pinot meunier. While most champagnes are a blend of grapes and vintages you will also find the terms ‘blancs de blancs’, ‘white from whites’ for those made from Chardonnay and ‘blancs de noirs’, ‘white from blacks’, for those made from Pinot noir and Pinot meunier. These wines differ in their aromas and flavours. Blancs de blancs will have a brighter, more zesty character with aromas of citrus, white flowers and white fruits like white peach and green apple. Blancs de noirs will be a little more powerful and round, with aromas of yellow fruits like peach or plum or red fruits like cherry.
‘Blancs de blancs’ and ‘blancs de noirs’ pair with different dishes. The liveliness of blanc de blancs can be great with appetisers or seafood. The rounder style of the ‘blancs de noirs’ means they can be good with main courses of white meat like poultry. Smoked salmon is classic pairing with brut champagne or cremant.
The Feely sparkling brut rose is a like strawberry sherbet followed by a hint of salt and biscuit / yeasty note.
Extra notes from questions at our fun virtual master class event on sparkling wine
What do you mean by biscuity?
This is the effect of maturing on the lees during the second fermentation. If aged on the lees we can find toasty or ‘biscuity’ notes. It can also be like a hint of brioche, bread, or yeast. This is more marked in longer aged sparkling like vintage champagne.
Do you get drunk faster on bubbles? If so why?
Yes! Roddy and Bob were right. Carbonic acid (in CO2 in the sparkling wine) stimulates blood circulation in your mucous membranes, like your stomach, small intestine, and mouth and makes you take up the alcohol faster. One study of a sparkling versus exactly the same wine stirred to get rid of the bubbles showed a difference in blood alcohol from the same amount in the same time to be 0.54 (sparkling) compared to 0.39 (without the sparkle).
What is biodynamics? What tests have you done?
The organic and biodynamic trail at Chateau Feely can be found at https://chateaufeely.com/visits/organic-and-biodynamic-trail/
The specifics of biodynamics at https://chateaufeely.com/visits/organic-and-biodynamic-trail/biodynamic-farming-and-winegrowing/
We did trials in our potager to see what a difference it made if we used the biodynamic compost versus the same cow dung composted in a standard way then to see if planting at different times made a difference and the results were convincing. The Maria Thun association carries out regular field trials.
How do you keep bubbles good for the next hour (specially for Abigail 😉) or next day?
The silver spoon in the bottle or recorking the bottle can both work. But key is keeping the wine well chilled as the bubbles disappear faster if it is warm.
Can’t get enough of sparkling wine?
Order your Feely Sparkling Brut Rose Methode Traditionelle (You can also find it in the preset EU case selections that include EU shipping.)
Read the story of our vineyard adventures in the book series; ‘Grape Expectations’, ‘Saving our Skins’ and ‘Glass Half Full’.