How does Champagne get its Sparkle?
The traditional method, also known as méthode classique in France, is used to produce a wide range of sparkling wines. They are considered to be some of the best wines in the world due to the long and complicated process that goes into their production. Traditional Method sparkling wines include; Champagne, Cava, Crémant, South Africa’s Méthode Cap Classic (MCC) and English Sparkling Wine.
Champagne is the most famous style of sparkling wine. The region, located in North East France, has strict laws on the grapes grown and how the wine is made. Firstly, the grapes have to be hand-picked in order to retain whole bunches, this is both a time and labour intensive process but allows the best grapes to be selected and made into premium wine.
Next, the grapes are gently pressed. The force applied to the grapes has a legal limit so only the best juice goes into producing the final product. The first press delivers the finest quality of pulp and is referred to as ‘cuvée’ and the second named ‘taille’.
1st and 2nd Fermentation.
The juice then undergoes the normal white wine fermentation pattern, until it reaches an ABV of around 8-9%. The wine is then bottled ‘on its lees’ in order to perform its second fermentation. This occurs with the addition of liqueur de tirage. This period spent in bottles not only increases the level of alcohol to the 11-12% ABV expected but also incorporates the signature fizz.
When the wine has finished its second fermentation it remains in contact with the dead yeasts or ‘lees’. The interaction with the lees changes the fresh fruit flavours into a complex mix of biscuit, hazelnut and bread tones. People experience notes of brioche and sometimes subtle hints of cheese. The process of keeping the wine in contact with the lees is also referred to as Sur Lie. The complex depth of flavour is created from the yeast breaking down into simpler compounds, mainly proteins and sugars.
The bottle still contains all of the dead yeast which need to be removed. The bottles are kept horizontally and very slowly moved into a vertical position (neck pointing down). Traditionally this was done by hand using pupitres, but now mechanised gyropalettes are far more common and cost-effective. The process of moving the bottle is known as riddling.
Once the bottles are vertical the dead yeast should have settled into the neck of the wine bottle. The neck is frozen in a brine mixture, sealing the yeast in the ice. The crown cap is removed and the pressure from the dissolved CO2 ‘shoots’ the ice and lees out in a process called disgorgement.
Liqueur d'expedition is added to top the bottle up, otherwise known as dosage, and the cork is quickly replaced. This used to be done by hand but it's now machine operated, making the whole process much faster. The dosage of Liqueur d'expedition is then given a few more months of bottle ageing to incorporate into the wine.
The Champagne or any other traditional method sparkling wine is then ready to be enjoyed!