Your bubbly is chilling, the perfect glasses shimmer waiting for the strike of twelve and the pop of the cork. But what exactly makes your sparkling wine the effervescent delight you save for special occasions? The answer lies in the method.
The classic method is commonly used for the fermentation of sparkling wines, (Champagne, Prosecco, Moscato D’Asti and Cava). While many grapes are picked when the sugar content is fairly high, Champagne grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) are picked earlier when sugar levels are low and acidity is high. The juice of the grapes is pressed off early to ensure little skin contact which keeps the wine white.The first fermentation occurs the same way as all wine, converting the natural sugar in the grapes to alcohol while the carbon dioxide is allowed to escape, producing the base wine. Because of the higher acid content, the wine at this point isn’t very tasty. The blend or assemblage occurs, using base wines from various vineyards and occasionally, vintages.
Primary fermentation begins as soon as yeast is added to the must (the freshly pressed grapes). And like a party of kids hopped up on pixie stix, in this phase there is a lot of activity; lots of foam, and crazy bubbling. The yeast at this point grows quickly because of the sugar, nutrients and oxygen. Up to 70% of the total amount of alcohol is produced during this phase which lasts about three-five days. This is known as aerobic fermentation because the fermentation vessel is left open to air.
When secondary fermentation occurs, there is no more oxygen and sugar is minimal which now makes it anaerobic fermentation, where air must be kept at a minimum. This allows the yeast to give its energy to making alcohol. Alcohol levels then rise to the point where any remaining yeast dies off. Secondary fermentation can last between one – two weeks and produces 30% alcohol. It’s the most important part of the whole process in making sparkling wines, it is the only way to produce a fully sparkling wine.
At this time it’s a mixture of still wine, sugar, yeast and a clarifying agent. It’s then bottled and then and capped with a temporary ‘soda’ cap to allow for the further addition of yeast and sugar. These components then react with one another, creating the fermentation inside the bottle. Fermentation then converts the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide, which is now trapped inside the bottle, infusing the wine with bubbles.
There are other ways that bubbles can be infused into sparkling wines:
- Carbon Dioxide Injection ~ (the soda pop method)
- Metodo Martinotti ~ pioneered by Federico Martinotti, and adapted by Eugene Charmot in 1907, and used specifically for Prosecco and Moscat D’Asti, secondary fermentation occurs in bulk tanks and is then bottled under pressure.
- Methode Champenoise ~ effervescence is produced by secondary fermentation within the bottle as above but this is specifically used to produce Champagne.
- Transfer Method ~ which takes the wine blend to bottle for secondary fermentation, which increases the complexity. but then transfers the wine out of the individual bottles into a larger tank after spending the desired amount of time on yeast.
So now that we’ve established how the bubbles get there, what is the difference between Champagne, Prosecco and Cava? Bubbles are bubbles, right? No. No they are not.
Here’s the basic break down:
Champagne ~France ~ Secondary fermentation occurs in the sealed bottle. Grape varietal(s)~ Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier. The flavors have a tendency to be more complex and rich. While it can be more expensive, many lovers of this sparkler wouldn’t have it any other way. They are very loyal to their bubbles and to their brand. Notable brands: Dom Perignon, Vueve Cliquot, Moet and Chandon, Pierre-Jouét. $60-$300+. Moderately priced Champagne will run between $60-$80.
Prosecco ~ Italy ~ Secondary Fermentation occurs in the Martinotti-Charmot method: occurring in large vats and then being transferred to bottle once fermentation is complete. Grape varietal: glera. Steadily gaining traction in the sparkly bubbles market, Prosecco is becoming becoming well-known among Millenials who prefer a price-friendly, lighter, fruit-forward bubbler. LaMarca, Sensi. $14-$30.
Cava ~ Spain ~ Large vat secondary fermentation is the prime method for Cava. Varietals include: Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo grapes. A lighter vibe (and price) is again why many choose Cava as an alternative sparkler to Champagne. Freixenet, Segura Viuda. $12-$20
Whether you choose Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, or sparkling cider, I hope you have an amazing New Year’s Eve and a spectacular 2016!