By now you are probably asking, what the hell is she talking about ‘traditional method’!?! Well, it turns out that all sparkling wines are not the same. There are basically three methods to make sparkling wines.
- Carbonation: In this case, a sparkling base wine is made in the same way that any white wine is made. Then carbon dioxide gas is pushed into the wine during the bottling process, which creates the bubbles. Think soda stream style. This is the cheapest method, but is also the lowest quality as the bubbles are often harsher.
- Transfer method: In this case, a sparkling base wine is made as per a normal white wine. Then, while still in a pressurised tank, a yeast and grape juice mixture is added. This yeast then ferments the grape juice to alcohol, of which the production of carbon dioxide (CO2) is a by-product. In a still white wine, this CO2 is allowed to escape the wine. The now sparkling wine is then filtered and bottled. This is a more ‘natural’ way to create the bubbles, but is generally used for more mass produced sparkling wines. Also known as the Charmat method.
- Traditional method: Also known as Methode Champenoise, Methode Traditionelle, Bottle Fermented. In this method, the base wine is made then mixed with a little bit of yeast and grape juice and put into bottle. The same bottle that you will ultimately drink the finished wine from. This is known as tirage. Once in the bottle, the yeast ferments the grape juice and forms bubbles with the CO2 produced. Each bottle is its own tiny little ferment. Once this ferment has finished, the wines may stay on the yeast lees (the dead bits of yeast) for as long as the winemaker wants. Aging the wine on yeast lees adds complexity to the wine. Then the individual bottles are gradually turned upside down in a process called riddling. This results in all of the yeast lees gathering in the neck of the bottle. In a process called disgorgement, the tops of the neck of each bottle are frozen, the bottle is opened and the frozen little yeast plug is popped out. At this stage some dosage (wine/juice mixture depending on the sugar level that the winemaker is looking for) is added, the bottle is topped up and recorked ready for sale. As you can see, there is a bit more involved in this process, and as a result, is the method chosen by high end producers. It is the method that we have used to make our 2016 The hunt for Mrs. Oliver Fiano.
In reality, making sparkling wine is much more technical than still winemaking. This is because you are basically managing thousands of tiny little ferments, in conditions that yeast don’t really love (low pH, pressure, alcohol, temperature…)- maybe that is why traditional method sparkling wines are just a little bit magic as well.
(Thanks for the pics Wine Folly)