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How is sparkling wine made?

Nov 05 2018

We all love a bottle of bubbly. But, have you ever stopped to wonder how those exquisite bubbles are made? If you have, you can stop scratching your head. With the bubbliest time of year fast approaching, we thought we’d explore everything that goes into making the exquisite drink we all know and love.

The Background

Sparkling wine was first introduced in the 1600’s and most people think it was invented by the French monk, Dom Perignon, in 1697. However, 30 years earlier, an English scientist discovered that winemakers on this side of the Channel had long been adding sparkle to their tipple!

How exactly does sparkling wine become sparkling?

Sparkling wine is a two-step production process. The wine grapes are harvested earlier than non-sparkling wine grapes, as it helps to capture the natural acidity in the fruit. First, there is the fermentation to create the wine followed by a second fermentation with yeast and sugar to create the bubbles.

Although all sparkling wines follow the same general process, different techniques create different styles of sparkling wine.

How are different types of sparkling wine created?

With sparkling wine, it’s all in the method. What distinguishes the Prosecco, from the Champagne and the Asti is where the secondary fermentation actually takes place. We have summarised below how each method is carried out.

The Traditional Method

This process is also known as the Méthode Champenoise, which as you can guess from the name, produces styles like Champagne. Less famous examples of wines produced by this method are Cava, Crémant and, some Sekt, Italian Metodo Classico wines.

What is the process?
  • First fermentation: Wine grapes are poured into a tank with yeast to create the base wine.
  • The base wine is then blended, according to the style and quality of the producer.
  • Second fermentation: This takes place in the bottle. Yeast and sugar are added to the mixture, the crown caps are sealed and the bottles set on their side for anything from nine months to 10 years.
  • Carbon dioxide is created as the yeast and sugar combine creating bubbles.
  • Disgorging: The bottles are turned upside down so the yeast travels to the top. This makes the yeast easy to remove.
  • Dosage: wine or sugar (or both) are added to the mixture to balance the wine. It is then corked, wired and labelled.

Champagne tends to be expensive as the traditional method process requires someone to hand-turn the bottle (ever so slightly) on a daily basis.

The Transfer Method

The Transfer Method follows exactly the same process as the Traditional Method, except the filtering of the wine occurs in a tank. The wine is sent through pressurised filters, making the wine easy to produce on mass.

The Tank Method

Much like the Transfer Method, the Tank Method takes place in a tank. The difference is that the whole process is held in a pressurised tank, which makes it a less expensive and less time-consuming method of sparkling wine production.

Wines produced using this process have a stronger yeast flavour and include Prosecco, Asti and Lambrusco.

The Continuous Method

Otherwise known as the Russian Method, which was created in (you guessed it) Russia. A less common whereby yeast is continuously added into pressurised tanks.

An example of sparkling wine produced from this method is a New Age wine.

The Carbonation Method

This method involves carbonating a still wine by injecting carbon dioxide into the wine, rather than created by a pressurised yeast mixture.

If you’re thinking this process sounds a bit inferior to the others, you’re right. An example of sparkling wine produced from this method is Lancers.

Your challenge

Now, it’s time for a challenge. Sample a bottle of bubbly from at least three of the production methods and assess the flavour and texture of the drink. Get adventurous this festive season!

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