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En Primeur

Fizzy Wine Production

Unlike your average carbonated drink, putting the fizz in wine is a long and complicated process (at least it should be!). This article explores the techniques used by the great Champagne houses.

The traditional way of making champagne is known as Méthode Champenoise. After initial fermentation and bottling a second stage of alcoholic fermentation occurs in the bottle. This comes about by including several grams of yeast (with different brands having their own secret recipe) along with several grams of rock sugar. A minimum of one and a half years is needed for the flavour to fully mature and flourish. When the harvest is particularly good a millesimé is declared which means the champagne is of excellent quality and will be left to mature for three years. During this the champagne bottle is sealed with a crown cap (similar to those used on beer battles).

After the ageing process the bottle is manipulated manually or mechanically in a process known as riddling (remuage, in French). This lets the lees settle in the neck of the bottle. After the bottles are chilled the neck is frozen and cap removed. The pressure in the bottle forces out the ice which contains the lees. The bottle is then rapidly corked so the carbon dioxide does not escape. Some syrup is also added to maintain CO2 levels in the bottle. Sometimes this disgorging method isn’t used which results in cloudy champagne occasionally seen under the label méthode ancestrale. Following disgorgement views vary – some prefer the crisp, vitality of recently disgorged Champagnes whereas others appreciate the caramel and baked apple palate that comes about after a year or so of ageing.

The Charmat process or Methodo Italiano was developed in Italy, and is the most used. The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks rather than individual bottles and is then bottled under pressure in a continuous process. Quite a number of grape cultivars (including Prosecco) are best suited for this method. This process has a slightly lower cost.

Cheaper sparkling wines are made by simply injecting CO2 using a carbonator.


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