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The Smaller The Bubbles the Better The Sparkling Wine...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"The tinier the bubbles the better the sparkling wine". I have heard this on more than one occasion and decided to find out why some sparkling wines are finer than others and how to get that CO2 to dissolve and escape the bottle, making a celebratory pop. It turns out there are several methods of making sparkling wine.
Traditional Style: The French pride themselves on making Champagne in the “Traditional Style”, which is the most expensive and laborious style of making sparkling wine, but also results in the finest Champagnes, those best suited for aging, and the finest, smallest bubbles. While the style of making a sparkling wine is one contributor to its quality and character, the grape varietals used to make the base wine are also a major component to the final product. Champagne is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier grapes. Once ripe, the grape juice is fermented into the wine base in tanks or barrels. This wine base should not taste especial
ly great (it is often dry and lacking flavor), and should be light, low sugar, and have neutral acidity. Come spring, the wine base can be blended with other bases of the same or different varietals to create a cuvee, or blend, which is then bottled. A carefully measured dose of sugar and yeast is then added to the bottles, giving off just the right amount of CO2 to induce the “second fermentation” in the bottle. The second fermentation produces bubbles and also increases the alcohol level from about 11% to 12.5%. Second fermentation causes the dead yeast (called “lees”) to settle, and the bottles are stored on their sides so that the maximum amount of lees makes contact with the wine as which gives it complexity and flavor. Now the Champagne sits and ages, allowing flavors to develop. The length of time it is spent aging in this stage
relies heavily on the producer’s ability to store it before it gets too costly or holds up storage of new vintages, but the longer the champagne can afford to be aged, the better. When the producer has finished aging the Champagne, an arduous process of removing the lees from the bottles must occur. The bottles must first be moved into an upended vertical position to get the sediment into the bottle neck with a quick shake (known as “riddling”). The bottles are then dipped into a bath of cold brine that freezes the sediment and allows it to be removed from the bottles as a frozen pellet (known as “disgorgement”). The bottles must then be topped off using a little of the same base wine and a small dose of sugar, (known as “dosage”). Finally, the Champagne is bottled under pressure and ready to be aged in the cellar or enjoyed!
In-Tank Fermentation:
As you read above, the traditional method is a costly and elaborate way of making sparkling wine and also truly suited only for Pinot and Chardonnay grapes. Other sparkling winemakers developed a less labor-intensive way to make sparkling wine by inducing Second Fermentation in large tanks rather than in the bottle. Once the second fermentation occurs in the tanks, the lees settles to the bottom and the clean wine is pumped off to be bottled under pressure. This method is used widely in Italy, especially on the Muscat grapes which make Italy’s tasty fumante.
Carbonation/Bike Pump Method: The most cost-effective and simple way to produce a sparkling wine is to simply pump CO2 into the wine tank and then bottle it under pressure. This method results in a nice (though short-lived) explosion of large bubbles when the cork is popped,
but produces the lowest quality of all sparkling wines. I’ll take a nice French Champagne over a cheap sparkling wine any day, but these brands can be wonderful for parties when mixed with orange juice for Mimosas or peach juice for Bellinis, since the added juice masks the quality and flavor of the sparkling wine. Not to mention, it will keep your costs down substantially when serving large quantities of

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