Whether it is an authentic Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or one of the growing list of sparkling wines from around the world, there is something magical about the bubbles – and the way they dance on your tongue and tickle your nose. But when you “break out the bubbly,” do you ever wonder where those tiny bubbles come from?
Turning Still Wine into Sparkling Wine
There are three processes that can be used to create sparkling wines. It all begins with the base wine. As grape juice is fermented, yeast converts grape sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Typically, CO2 is “let off” most wines. However, with sparkling wine, the gas is captured and dissolved into the liquid – creating bubbles that rise from the bottom of your glass.
Let’s take a look at these three processes, and see what rises to the top:
The Traditional Method of Sparkling Wine Production
Aka: Methode Champenoise, Champagne Method
The Traditional Method of production ensures the wine you hold in your hand was created in that very same bottle – which means each and every bottle is unique. Champagne is ALWAYS made this way.
This process creates sparkling wines with a rich flavour profile, with the smoothest, finest bubbles. These wines can often benefit from further aging in your cellar.
This process can be used to turn any table wine into sparkling wine. Sugar, yeast, and yeast nutrients are added into an existing bottle of wine, which is then recapped and laid to rest while a second fermentation takes place inside the bottle. The yeast eats up all the added sugars to boost alcohol and CO2 levels.
Once the yeast dies, they sink to the bottom of the bottle where they are often left for months. This adds distinctive character and flavours of fresh bread, toast, and wet dough. To remove the expired yeast (or “lees”), the bottle is slowly turned bit by bit until the wine is standing “sur pointe” or upside down (a process known as “riddling”). The bottle is dipped in liquid nitrogen to freeze the solids, which are then removed. More wine is added to top off the bottle, which is laid to rest before being released to market.
The sweetness of the wine added determines the style or sweetness of the final product. Those labelled “Brut” are drier and less sweet. “Demi-Sec” are mid-scale and “Doux” refers to high sugar content.
For the Champagne taste without the Champagne price tag, try Cava from Spain; Cap Classique from South Africa; or Californian, Canadian or Tasmanian Traditional Method wines. Franciacorta is Italy’s response to Champagne. Sparkling Shiraz is also produced this way.
To tell if a sparkling wine from outside of the Champagne region was made using the Traditional Method, look for the following phrases on the label: Methode Cap Classique, Methode Traditionnelle, Traditional Method, or Crement.
The Tank Method of Sparkling Wine Production
Aka: Metodo Italiano, or Charmat Method
Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti, Sekt (from Germany), and Lambrusco are just a few of the incredibly popular sparkling wines created using the Italiano Method.
With sparkling wine, the goal is to minimize the flavours coming from the yeast and to instead showcase the flavours of the grapes used in the initial wine making process. The Italiano (or Tank Method) achieves this by employing large vessels to ensure a high liquid to yeast ratio.
As with the Traditional Method, a base wine is used. The wine can be made from any grape variety and all sweetness levels.
The base wine is placed in a large thank where it is inoculated with more sugar and yeasts. The yeast activates a second fermentation process, creating bubbles that are trapped inside the closed tank. The wine is drained off the yeast and bottled under pressure to create aromatic, fresh, and lively bubbles meant to be drank in their youth. Bubbles are well integrated and typically larger in size.
The Carbonation Method of Sparkling Wine Production
This is the simplest way to make bubbles. Since time is money, it is also the most economical. CO2 is pumped from cylinders into the wine and is immediately bottled. This method is quite effective for retaining aromatic fruit flavours. However, the bubbles dissipate very, very quickly in the glass. For this reason, high quality sparkling wines are not produced using this method.
“All Champagne is sparkling wine. But not all sparkling wine is Champagne.”
Because it is so well-known, people often mistakenly use the term “Champagne” when describing all types of sparkling wine.
The truth is, only sparkling wines produced from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France can legally be called “Champagne.” Not only that, to be a true Champagne, it must follow exacting rules around the fermentation process, types of grapes, growing practices … even bottling.
Is it Champagne that you are after? Perhaps the occasion calls for a more affordable price tag, in which case Cava or a friendly fruit driven Prosecco would fit the bill. Ask your Co-op Wine Spirits Beer retailer what they would recommend.