Monday, June 13, 2011

The bubbly process

My wine club’s theme this month is Celebrate! Bubbly and Chards! While I was looking up information for my selected wine (to be discussed tomorrow) and that it was produced using the traditional method of making Champagne, I realized that I really didn’t know what the other methods were. I knew the traditional method (called either Méthode Champenoise / Méthode Traditionnelle) was the “best way” to make sparkling wine, but I didn’t know what the difference actually was.  Now I do (and so will you):

There are 3 (ok 4, if you count directly injecting carbon dioxide into the wine) methods of making sparkling wine.
  • Méthode Champenoise / Méthode Traditionnelle
  • Transfer method
  • Metodo Italiano (Charmat process)
All sparkling wines are made from still wine, so they go through harvest, pressing the grapes, first fermentation, and blending steps, which are nearly identical if its going to be still wine or sparkling wine. At the triage step, the process differs from still wine: After blending, the winemaker adds the Liqueur of Tirage, a blend of sugar, wine and live yeast that will begin the wine's second fermentation.

The second fermentation is where the methods differ. In the Méthode Champenoise the bottle is topped with a top like a beer cap and the wine is aged while it undergoes the second fermentation process (at least one year for non-vintage and three years for a vintage sparkling wine.) After fermentation, the next step is riddling, where the wine is slowly (over the course of 6-8 weeks) rotated and turned from a horizontal state until totally upside down and the sediment is in the neck of the bottle. The bottle neck is dipped into a brine solution to freeze the liquid, the pressure in the unfrozen part of the bottle forces the frozen sediment out and a dosage (sugar and sometimes brandy) is added to adjust to the final dryness. The bottle is then topped with the cork and wire cage.
In the Transfer method, the wine is transferred from the bottles to a pressurized tank where the sediment is filtered out and the wine is rebottled.

In the Charmat process, the entire second fermentation process is done in a large pressurized tank. The result in this process is that the carbon dioxide has less time to integrate with the wines so there are larger bubbles that dissipate faster. Usually prosecco is made using this process (hence the name).


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