bubble trouble xmas

Bubble trouble to… fizz into the new year!

Sparkles and bubbles are the musts of Christmas holidays, especially for the New Year celebrations. But even though sparkling wine is maybe the easiest wine to drink, it is the most difficult to make. Why? Because of the need for two fermentations: one to make wine and the other to make bubbles.

Sparkling wine, like most things, was first created by accident

bubble trouble xmasFrench Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, who because of the endless time monks have in their hands, since they don’t have sex or any kind of social life for that matter, in 1697 is reputed to have tasted some wine that had re-fermented in the bottle by accident and was overjoyed at the deliciously sparkling result.

How sparkling wine is made

There are 6 methods by which sparkling wines are produced, each resulting in a different carbonation level and a different style of bubbly! Below you will see all the 6 methods, but the two worth paying attention to the most are the Traditional Method (or Classic Method or Champenoise) and Tank Method (or Charmat)

                  1. Traditional Method
                  2. Tank Method
                  3. Transfer Method
                  4. Ancestral Method
                  5. Continuous Method
                  6. Carbonation

Traditional Method

bubble trouble xmasMéthode traditionnelle is definitely the most appreciated method for sparkling wine production in terms of quality, and at the same time it is also the most costly in terms of production. The most important facet of the traditional method is that the transformation from a still to a sparkling wine occurs entirely inside the bottle. Examples of Classic Method wines are: Cava, Champagne, Crémant, some Sekt and Italian Metodo Classico wines (including Franciacorta).

  1. Base Wine or “Cuvée”: grapes are picked (usually just a tinsy bit younger to preserve acidity) and fermented into a dry wine. The winemaker then takes the various base wines and blends them together into what the French call a “cuvée”, which is the final sparkling wine blend.
  2. Tirage: Yeast and sugars are added to the cuvée to start the second fermentation and wines are bottled (and topped with crown caps).
  3. 2nd Fermentation: The second fermentation adds about 1.3% more alcohol and the process creates CO2 which is trapped inside the bottle thus carbonating the wine. The yeast dies in a process called autolysis and remains in the bottle.
  4. Ageing: Wines are aged on their lees (the autolytic yeast particles) for a period of time to develop texture in the wine. For example, Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months of aging (36 months for vintage wines). Cava requires a minimum of 9 months of ageing but requires up to 30 months for Gran Reserva Cava. Most believe the longer the wine ages on its lees, the better.
  5. Riddling: Clarification occurs by settling the bottle upside down and moving the bottle around, in order for the dead yeast cells collect in the neck of the bottle.
  6. Disgorging: The bottles are placed upside down into freezing liquid which causes the yeast bits to freeze in the neck of the bottle. The crown cap is then popped off momentarily which allows the frozen chunk of lees to shoot out of the pressurized bottle.
  7. Dosage: A mixture of wine and sugar (called Liquer d’Expedition) is added to fill bottles and then bottles are corked, wired and labeled.

Dosage is the mixture that gives the unique taste of each Classic Method wine and it is usually kept a secret.

bubble trouble xmasIMPORTANT NOTE! A lot of people make the mistake calling all sparkling wines Champagne. But Champagne is only the sparkling wine that is made in the Champagne region in France, following specific requirements. The traditional method of sparkling winemaking was awarded a UNESCO heritage in Champagne in 2015.

Tank Method

bubble trouble xmasThe Tank Method, that came about during the industrial advancements made in the early 20th century, is also called Charmat Method, Metodo Italiano, Cuvée Close, autoclave and one of the most famous examples is our beloved Prosecco from the Italian Veneto region!

bubble trouble christmasThe reason that Prosecco and other Charmat Method wines are not as costly as the Traditional Method ones, is that the 2nd fermentation takes place in the tank and not in the bottle, so the procedure is much more simple and the wines are fresher, without going through any ageing time. The base wine is added together with the sugar and yeast mixture (Tirage) into a large tank. As the wine has a second fermentation, the CO2 released from the fermentation causes the tank to pressurize, wines are then filtered, dosed (with Liquer d’ Expedition) or not, and bottled without ageing.

So now that you know what troubles the bubbles have to go through to end up in the bottle, fill up your glass and fizzzzzzzzz into the New Year!

Christina Kambanella