Champagne! And other bubbly things
Happy New Year, my dear readers! I trust you all had a wonderful holiday season and hope you have a spectacular end to good ol' 2015. With that being said, I give you the obligatory Champagne post! There will likely be no shortage of bubbly on Thursday night, so I'm going to give you a little crash course on the production of Champagne and sparkling wine. This way you'll know what's in your glass come New Year's Eve and you can also drop some
tipsy knowledge on your friends.
All Champagne is made using the Traditional method. Many years go into the production of Champagne, which is one of the many reasons it can be expensive.
1. Primary Fermentation
Like any other wine, the juice is fermented.
The climate of Champagne is quite cool, so there is a lot of vintage variation. To maintain a consistent style of Champagne, producers will blend together wines from several vintages and grape varieties. The three varieties used in Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Meunier. When a vintage is exceptional, which on average occurs 1 to 2 times every 10 years, vintage Champagne will be produced and it is AMAZING. If you see a 2002 when you're browsing for your New Year's bubbles, grab it.
3. Secondary Fermentation
From my nerdy perspective, this is where the process gets really cool. After the wine is blended, a mixture of wine, yeast, nutrients for the yeast, and sugar is added, then the wine is bottled with a little cup-like insert that rests in the neck of the bottle. The yeast begins to react with the sugar and a second fermentation begins and finishes within 6 to 8 weeks. Fermentation releases carbon dioxide and since the gas is not allowed to escape the bottle, it is absorbed into the wine, giving it the bubbles.
4. Yeast Autolysis
After the second fermentation, the yeast begin to die and form a sediment, called lees, in the bottle. The yeast cells release protein as they break down and this adds flavors of biscuit, toast, and bread along with a fuller, softer texture. Most Champagne will mature for 4 or 5 years on its lees, but some can spend 10 years in this stage.
Once the wine has spent the appropriate amount of time on its lees, it's time for the yeast sediment to be removed. No one wants to drink sediment-y Champagne, right? Remember that cup insert that was secured in the neck at bottling? That's going to catch the yeast and form a "yeast plug". Sounds appetizing. The bottles need to be slowly moved upside down so that the sediment will collect at the top of the bottle, so they are gently jiggled and moved a teensy bit more vertical each day. If done by hand, it takes 8 weeks to move them from a horizontal position to a vertical one. Modern winemaking methods use a mechanical riddler and it takes only 8 days to complete.
6. Disgorgement and Corking
The bottle necks are dunked into a cold brine, which freezes the wine and the yeast plug that are in the neck. Then the bottle cap is removed and the pressure from the carbon dioxide in the wine shoots out the yeast-cicle. A bit of wine and cane sugar is added, then the bottle is sealed with a cork. The wine and sugar mixture is called the liqueur d'expedition and is often referred to as the dosage. It determines the final sweetness of the wine, which will be on the label:
Brut Nature: dry (no dosage)
Extra Brut: dry
Brut: dry to off-dry
Extra-Sec: off-dry to medium-dry
Doux: Very sweet
7. Bottle Aging
The wine is aged in the bottle for a few months before it's released, allowing the wine and liqueur d'expedition to integrate.
Wines made this way: Champagne, Cava, many high end sparkling wines from the rest of the world
....so that was a crash course. It's a lot of information to absorb, so I'm going to really briefly touch on the methods of producing other sparkling wines around the world. Aaaand it's going to give me a reason to buy some of these wines so I can delve further into the topic in a separate post ;)
This process is the same as the traditional method, except when it comes time to riddle the bottles. Instead of riddling, the bottles are emptied into a tank and the wine is filtered in bulk before being bottled in new bottles.
Wines made this way: many sparkling wines of the US, Australia, New Zealand, some European wines
The secondary fermentation is done in a sealed tank rather than individual bottles. The wine will not have the biscuit-y flavors of wines produced using the Traditional or Transfer methods since it doesn't spend a significant time in contact with its lees.
Wines made this way: Prosecco, inexpensive sparkling wines
The wine is fermented once and carbon dioxide is allowed to escape the tank until the alcohol levels reach 6%. Then the tank is sealed and as fermentation continues the carbon dioxide is absorbed by the wine.
Wines made this way: Asti, Moscato d'Asti
Basically a Sodastream for wine, carbon dioxide is injected into a wine.
Wines made this way: Nothing I'd want to drink!
I hope you enjoyed your bubble education. I leave you and 2015 with the image that pops into my head every time I think of "Cham-pahn-yuh".
Cheers and Happy New Year!