How to make Sparkling Wine
Exploring the Craft of Making Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wine, despite its ease of consumption, is one of the most technically demanding types of wine. The complexity lies in the necessity for two fermentations: one to create the wine and another to infuse it with bubbles. Since its inception in the mid-1500s, several methods of production have been developed, each resulting in a unique style of sparkling wine. This guide delves into the major sparkling wine production methods and the wines created through each technique.
The Six Major Sparkling Wine Production Methods
- Traditional Method
- Tank Method
- Transfer Method
- Ancestral Method
- Continuous Method
While each method produces distinct levels of carbonation and, consequently, varying styles of sparkling wine, the Traditional Method (used for Champagne) and the Tank Method (used for Prosecco) are the most widely recognized.
Traditional Method (Méthode Champenoise)
- Bottle Pressure: 5-7 atmospheres or ~75-99 psi
The Traditional Method, arguably the most esteemed but also the most costly, transforms still wine into sparkling wine entirely within the bottle. This process involves the following stages:
Base Wine or "Cuvée": Grapes are harvested (usually slightly underripe to preserve acidity) and fermented into a dry wine. The winemaker blends these base wines to create the final sparkling wine, known as a "cuvée."
Tirage: Yeast and sugars are added to the cuvée to initiate the second fermentation. The wine is then bottled and sealed with crown caps.
Second Fermentation: This occurs inside the bottle, creating about 1.3% more alcohol and capturing CO2, carbonating the wine. The dead yeast cells, from a process called autolysis, remain in the bottle.
Aging: The wine ages on its lees (autolytic yeast particles) to develop texture. Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months of aging (36 months for vintage Champagne). Cava requires at least 9 months of aging, but Gran Reserva Cava can age for up to 30 months.
Riddling: Bottles are placed upside down, and dead yeast cells collect in the neck.
Disgorging: Sediment is removed by freezing the neck of the bottle and popping off the crown cap, allowing the frozen lees to shoot out.
Dosage: A mixture of wine and sugar (Expedition liqueur) is added, and bottles are corked, wired, and labeled.
Tank Method (Charmat Method)
- Bottle Pressure: 2-4 atmospheres or 30-60 psi
The Tank Method, used primarily for Prosecco and Lambrusco, involves adding base wines, sugar, and yeast to a large tank. The second fermentation occurs in the tank, carbonating the wine. It is then filtered, dosed with Expedition liqueur, and bottled without aging.
Tank Method wines have a fresher character with stronger secondary (yeasty) flavours, though some argue it's not as high-quality as the Traditional Method.
Other methods include the Transfer Method, Ancestral Method, Continuous Method, and Carbonation, each with its own unique approach to crafting sparkling wines.
Bottle Pressure and Bubble Levels
The bottle pressure of sparkling wines affects the perception of taste. Higher pressure leads to finer bubbles. Different terms are used to describe bubble pressure:
- Beady: Less than 1 additional atmosphere of pressure (14.7 psi). Bubbles appear on the sides of the bottle or glass when opened.
- Semi-Sparkling: 1-2.5 atmospheres (14.7-37 psi). Slightly sparkling.
- Sparkling: 3 or more atmospheres, labeled as sparkling according to EU regulations.
The world of sparkling wine is a fascinating blend of science, art, and tradition. Each method brings forth distinct styles and characteristics, from the prestigious Traditional Method to the lively Tank Method. Understanding these methods allows you to appreciate the rich diversity of sparkling wines available today. Whether you prefer the refined elegance of Champagne or the effervescent charm of Prosecco, there's a sparkling wine to suit every palate. Cheers to the intricate craft of bubbly creation!