Wiens on Wine - Sparkling Wine Part 1 – Methods of Production
Posted on October 6, 2023
This post originally appeared in our Wine Line email newsletter. Stan was kind enough to let us post it on our blog as well. Thanks, Stan!
Learn alongside Stan as he completes WSET Level 4.
Days to Final Exam: 371
This week’s focus: Sparkling Wine (Part 1 – Methods of Production)
One of the fastest-growing styles of wine in the world is sparkling wine! Some of the best wine I have tried in the past year has come from this wonderful style!
To help you navigate the bubbles I am going to break down the topic into a few easy-to-understand categories over the next few weeks: the various methods of production; decoding the wine label; and famous regions of the world you need to know about.
Part 1 – Methods of Production
Buying sparkling wine can be confusing if you don’t understand the many styles it can come in. This has possibly kept you for trying one of my favourite styles of wine.
Today we are going to focus on six methods of “prise de mousse” (capturing the sparkle), complete with examples: Traditional; Transfer; Ancestral; Tank; Asti; and Carbonation.
Of course I want to start with the most fascinating of methods! This is the method that gives us Champagne, Cava, Crémant and more. On the wine label: Traditional Method; Methode Cap Classique; or Fermented in this bottle.
The Traditional Method process is time-consuming, precise and expensive:
- Careful selection and timing of grapes at harvest (typically cool regions of the world)
- Gentle pressing and then primary fermentation in a tank at cool temperatures to retain the fruity character
- Blending (Assemblage), the hallmark of sparkling wine, for balance, consistency etc.
- Second fermentation in the bottle it will be sold in (4-6 weeks) by adding ‘Liqueur de Tirage’ (determines the level of CO2 in the final wine)
- Sealed with a crown cap and plastic pot to capture sediment
- Stored horizontally (lees aging) in cool cellars for months/years (Champagne has miles of tunnels for storage).
- Riddling/Disgorgement is moving the bottle from horizontal to inverted, sediment moves to the plastic pot in the neck of the bottle, the neck is frozen in a brine solution (-27C), and then the frozen sediment is ejected and the bottle is once again capped.
I glossed over many details in the process that are noteworthy. For more information, check out the official Champagne website here.
This method is used by some producers to save money while retaining some of the quality. It is the same as the traditional method up to the point of riddling. At this point, the wine is taken from the bottle and moved back into a tank for final adjustments and to create a consistent “house style”. The label will read “fermented in a bottle” vs. “fermented in this bottle”. The transfer method cannot be used in the region of Champagne, France (except for very small and very large bottles). This method is used widely in South Africa.
Think organic, orange wine and all things natural. This artisanal approach is best known as Pet Nat (petillant naturel). Once the base wine is bottled, the wine will ferment in the bottle, creating sediment and CO2. The amount of “sparkle” will be determined by how much fermentation took place. Typically the sediment stays in the bottle, giving a cloudy appearance, often low alcohol, dry, with no SO2 added (see my recent article on Sulphur Dioxide), and notes reminiscent of cider. The consistency of the style for natural wine can be unpredictable, given the wild nature of fermentation.
Think Prosecco (or Sekt), simple, cheap and quick! This can but doesn’t always mean poor quality. The reputation of Prosecco is on the move upward. This method is also known as the Charmat or Martinotti Method. There is no riddling or disgorging. Both primary and second fermentation happens in the tank, preserving primary fruit characteristics, typically from aromatic grape varieties. Once the right sugar level is achieved, based on the winemaker's choice, the tank is sealed and the CO2 is retained. These wines will be filtered so that no sediment is detectable.
Moscato d’Asti or Asti wines are made from the grape Moscato Bianco in the specific Italian region of Piemonte (northern Italy). This method produces sparkling and low-alcohol, wine, with aromas of orange blossom and peach and typically on the sweeter side. It is a similar method of production to the tank method but only goes through one fermentation.
Think Coca-Cola. If you are paying $6.00 for a bottle of bubbly, this is likely the method used.
Fun Fact: Germans drink more sparkling wine than anyone in the world – by far! My heritage is German…hmmm…Sehr Gut!
Homework: Ask your wine specialist for three bottles of sparkling wine without breaking the bank: Pet Nat, Tank Method, and Traditional Method (if you want a fourth bottle, do yourself a favour and try Lambrusco).
Stan Wiens can be found working at our shop sporadically in between lengthy bouts of drinking wine ("studying") in order to complete Level 4 of the WSET program.
You can also find Stan on Instagram: @wiensonwine
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