So…some sparkling wine basics to start with. The bubbles were first looked at as a flaw, but the Brits got a taste and liked it! During the 17th century the English glass production used coal ovens rather than wood like the French and were able to create a more durable bottle that could better withstand the pressure in sparkling wine. Prior to this it was not unusual for a cellar to loose 20-90% of their bottles to instability.
How did it get to England and hook the Brits you ask? Well Champagne is a cold region and sometimes the fermentation process would be prematurely halted due to the cold temperature leaving dormant yeast and some residual sugar in the bottle. They would box up the wine and ship it to England, where it would warm up and begin a second fermentation in the bottle and thus when opened in jolly old England it would be bubbly!
There are two methods of making Champagne or sparkling wine. The first is the “Methode Traditionnelle” and the second is Charmat.
Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionnelle is more expensive because it is more labor intensive. This starts by making a base wine then adding sugar and yeast to the bottle which starts a secondary fermentation. The bottles are placed in riddling racks, which tip the bottle slightly upside down allowing the lees (the dead yeast cells) to collect in the neck of the bottle. You know that Veuve Clicquot Champagne? Well Madame Nicole Barbe Clicquot was the inspiration behind riddling racks. She hated the cloudy look of champagne, because at the time the lees would settle in the bottom of the bottle and when your poured it, it would get all cloudy (think Kombucha). So she had these racks created which would hold the bottles at a forty five degree angle with the neck down. Several times a week, workers go in and turn the bottle, in some cases giving it a small shake to make sure the lees are not caking or clinging to the glass. Then they freeze the neck of the bottle so that they can “disgorge” the plug of lees that has settled in the neck of the bottle. They then refill the empty space in the bottle often adjusting the sweetness in the process and cork and cage the wine. Because these wines do the secondary fermentation in the bottle (the big heavy champagne bottles) the pressure is higher, at 6-7 atmospheres of pressure which is what gives you those very small fine bubbles.
In this method the Champagne is made in large tanks and CO2 is added to add the bubbles. This method is used for less expensive sparkling wines. The bubbles tend to be larger and “rule of thumb”, the larger the bubbles the bigger the headache. These bubbles tend to disperse quickly also.
Yep, this can be confusing. Dry is not really dry. Typically in a wine, dryness is dependent on the amount of residual sugar in the finished wine. In the fermentation process, yeast eats the sugar, in the end, if it eats all the sugar you get a dryer wine, if there is sugar left over…well that is the residual sugar! In Sparkling wines dry comes in the wrong place for my brain on the sweetness scale. Here we go with our rundown of wine sweetness.
This is from Sweetest to driest:
Doux: Sweetest (this will give you over 2 teaspoons of sugar for each glass)
Demi-Sec: a little less sweet (only 1 to 2 teaspoons of sugar per glass)
Dry: Not REALLY dry (3/4 to 1 teaspoon of sugar)
Extra Dry: Well, it’s dryer than dry! (1/2 to ¾ teaspoons)
Brut: Now we are getting dryer (1/4 to ½ teaspoons of sugar)
Extra Brut: Dryer than Brut with (less than ¼ teaspoons of sugar)
Brut Nature: Okay here we go…this is the driest! (less than 1/6 teaspoon of sugar in a glass)
This is important to keep in mind, because unless you go to a great little wine shop where they are smart and knowledgeable, it is unfortunately likely that they will point you in the wrong direction on the dryness scale. (toss this info in your phone for when you go champagne shopping!)
Non Vintage: house style champagne can be from multiple years
Blanc de Blancs: 100% Chardonnay wines
Blanc de Noirs: Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier winess
Rose: Rose wines with fruit flavors
Vintage & Special Cuvee: Aged champagne wines
Pinot Noir: adds orange and red fruit flavors
Pinot Meunier: add richness and yellow apple flavors
Chardonnay: adds citrus and maripan flavors
Fresh & Salty
feta, Cotija, Paneer, Chevre, Sour cream
Serve ice cold
Oyster, Clam, Charcuterie, bacon, salami