Once the preserve of high days and holidays, sparkling wine from around the world has become ever more popular and accessible. Sparkling wine starts its life in pretty much the same way as still wine – grapes are picked, crushed and the juice is then fermented. Still wines would then either be aged further in barrel or tank or they would be bottled. Sparkling wine needs to gain its fizz and it can mainly do so in two methods of secondary fermentation:
The Charmat/tank Method:
Still wines undergo a second fermentation in large closed pressure tanks. As this second fermentation takes place, added sugar is transformed into carbon dioxide as it is broken down by added yeast. This method is by far the most economical in terms of both time and money and results in large quantities of sparkling wine being produced in large batches. This method is perfect for straightforward sparkling wines that can be enjoyed when fresh and youthful. Wines such as Prosecco tend to be produced this way although there is a resurgence in Colfondo style winemaking where the secondary fermentation takes place in bottle following the addition of grape must.
The Traditional Method:
Unlike the Charmat Method, wines made by the Traditional Method undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle. Wine is bottled along with the tirage – a combination of sugar and yeast – and then sealed with a crown cap. This bottle will then remain on its side once secondary fermentation takes place. Once the yeast has processed all of the available sugar the bottles are then slowly inverted, or riddled, so that the dead yeast collects in the neck of the bottle. This process was traditionally done by hand but now is more commonly carried out by machines. Once the bottle has been inverted the neck is frozen, trapping the lees in an icy plug. This plug is discharged when the crown caps are removed and the void is topped up with a dosage made up of wine from the same batch and sugar to balance out acidity levels. The bottle will then have a mushroom cork and wire cage fitted before being taken away for aging. Wines made with this method are much more labour intensive to produce and can spend a long period of time aging both on lees and following disgorgement. This means that these wines are more expensive although the added complexity and ability to age mean the additional cost is easy to justify. Champagne, Cava and English sparkling wines are all made using this method.
Famous names include: Bollinger, Pol Roger, Joseph Perrier, Laurent Perrier, Louis Roederer, Nyetimber and Wiston Estate.