…And really to all things bubbly. What is the difference between a Champagne, a Prosecco and general Sparkling wine? Well, the one thing they all have in common is bubbles. Oh, so delicious bubbles. That is really where the likeness may end. There is five different ways a sparkling wine can be created, and the method can really impact the taste profile of the wine.
Champagne/Traditional method/Method Cap Classique
This is the most commonly known method. It originated in the Champagne region, many years ago. It is made by following these steps:
- Create a still wine, usually of one grape variety (especially in Champagne) i.e., they make a still chardonnay, a still Pinot
- Blend the still wine – this can be of different varieties, different vintages, etc.
- 2nd fermentation occurs in the bottle – this is conducted by adding sugar, yeast, and yeast nutrients to the blended still wine in bottles
- Yeast Autolysis – this is the left-over yeast from the 2nd fermentation creates what is called lees. The lees break down and release proteins. This is important as this is what gives the wine a bread, yeast and toast notes
- Riddling – this is turning the bottle slightly every day to get the lees to dislodge and collect in the neck of the bottle
- Disgorgement – this the process where they remove the left-over yeast from the neck of the bottle
- Dosage – sugar may be added back into the wine to add some sweetness back in. The amount of dosage determines if the wine will be extra brut, brut, extra-sec, etc.
Although this method was first introduced in the Champagne region, many other countries have adopted this process, and that is where Cava, Crémant (French wine not produced in the Champagne region), Traditional Method, or Cap Classique terms come in.
To be called a Champagne specifically, the wine has to be from the Champagne region within France and must only be made of approved grape varieties. The most common being Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The other traditional method sparkling wines aren’t as limited on the grape variety so there are some really great unique wines out there, for example Cava from Spain is often made from Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Paredalla grapes. Rieslings are being used in some Canadian traditional method wines as well.
So is Champagne for you, if you like bready, butter, toasty notes on top of fruit than the traditional method is likely for you. Start out with some non-Champagne options as they are generally a bit more cost effective to get you going or try a wine done by:
Transfer Method/Bottle Fermented
This method is similar to the traditional method but takes out the labour-intensive, costly processes of riddling and disgorgement steps (although some use machines now)
- Repeat steps 1 – 4 above.
- Dump all the wine contents into a tank
- Filter out the left-over yeast
This is most commonly done in Australia and other non-European countries. The wine typically still has the bready, yeasty, toast flavor. But the bubbles may not be as plentiful, long lasting or as vigorous as from a traditional flavour.
Not sure about strong toast flavours? Then maybe one of these other methods are more your style:
The tank method is the most commonly used method for Italian Prosecco or German/Austrian Sekt. Unlike traditional method and bottle fermented, tank method isn’t commonly highlighted on the bottle, so don’t be surprised if you don’t see those words. But it is a safe bet, that if you are drinking a prosecco, you are drinking a tank method sparkling wine.
- Create a still wine
- Place wine in a pressurized metal tank
- 2nd Fermentation takes place in the tank – yeast and sugars added here as well
- Filter out the left-over yeast
Dosage or adding sugar is not part of the typical process. Tank method sparkling wine is typically dry. Because the 2nd fermentation happens in larger vats, there is less direct contact with the lees or left-over yeast. So, tank method sparkling wines are generally more fruit forward and my just have hints of toast on them.
If you like your wine dry and fruity, this is probably the one for you. Good news for you, these wines is typically cheaper than the traditional or bottle fermented wines.
Are you more of a sweet fruit forward guy/gal? Then the Asti method may be for you. This method differs from the previous 3 options as we don’t start with a still wine, but with fruit juice and only 1 fermentation occurs.
- Put grape juice into a pressurized tank
- 1st fermentation (yeast is added)
- Once the wine has hit desired sweetness, interrupt the fermentation so that the desired residual sugar remains in the wine
- Filter the yeast out of the wine
- Bottle under pressure
This is probably one of the simplest ways to get a sparkling wine, instead of creating the bubbles by the fermentation process, CO2 is just injected into a still wine. The quality of a carbonation style sparkling wine, really depends on the quality of the base still wine, as does the flavour profiles. There are some good ones out there, so don’t let the simplicity of this method turn you off. They are generally a very affordable option.
Phew! That was a lot of information, and maybe too much. But I love sparkling wine and am fascinated about the different ways it can be produced. So, I hope you found it interesting and go out and buy yourself a nice bottle of sparkling wine that is just to your taste.
P.S. An instructor once told me that you should celebrate all life events; the good, the bad, and the ugly, with a bottle of bubbly. I have to say, I have adopted this practice into my life for the past 10 years and it really has brought happiness to many days. I HIGHLY recommend making this a practice in your life, you won’t regret it.