The Process Of Making Champagne
“Come quickly, I am tasting the stars!” Dom Pérignon.
The French Benedictine monk, Dom Pérignon, supposedly made such an exclamation upon tasting the first bottle of sparkling wine. No matter if this marketing is accurate or false, champagne’s bubbles make it so unique.
Only sparkling wine made in ChampagneChampagne is not the same thing as Champagne. But, Champagne’s bubble-making technique to enhance still wine with bubbles is used all over the globe. Champagne producers who use methode champenoise will identify their bottles. What does this do for the wine’s flavour?
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Champagne making, step by step
Step 1. First Fermentation
Every Champagne maker starts with a still wine. Different grape varieties may be used depending on the location of where this wine is made. The most common grapes in Champagne are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Labels blanc de blancs refer to white wines, while bottles blanc de noirs refers to red grapes. They press the grapes as they would still wines and begin the fermentation.
Step 2: Mixing
Many Champagne houses blend still wines to create their own house style. A vintage-dated Champagne bottle may be made using just grapes from one year. They produce wines which are not vintage, but they blend carefully to create a wine consistent with their style. A multi-vintage wine is a wine made from wine of many vintages.
Step 3: The Second Fermentation
Secondary fermentation is crucial for wine to get its bubbles. After the wines have been bottled, a mix of sugar, yeast, and wine is added to each bottle. Finally, a crown cap on each bottle is applied. After the bottles have been bottled, they are placed horizontally. The second fermentation starts when yeast slowly converts sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bottle has a cap so that carbon dioxide doesn’t escape and remains in the bottle as bubbles.
Step 4: Lees Aging
This secondary fermentation also produces the waste yeast cells (lees), which will be left on the wine for several months before it is removed from the bottles. Champagne has very strict production guidelines. All producers are required to age bottles on the lees for at least 15 months for wines that have not been vinified and for 3 years for bottles with vintage dates. Wine-producing areas without strict guidelines may have different requirements regarding the time that wine spends with the lees. The winemaker will want to allow some lee time because this is how wine produced in such a way develops its yeasty or bread dough flavors.
Step 5: Riddling
Producers must remove lees after aging for a certain amount of time. This is called riddling. Bottles are placed on special racks at a 45º angle, and every few days the bottles are turned and given a small shake to move the spent yeast cells and sediment down toward the neck of the bottle. The bottles will eventually become vertical when the angle of the racks increases.
The spent yeast cells can be removed from each bottle by a process known as disgorgement. To freeze the yeast cells, dip each bottle’s neck into a solution of freezing water. After the crown cap has been removed from each bottle, the wine is expelled along with the sediment by the internal pressure. Champagne house labels their wines with the disgorgement date to let consumers know how long they have been left on their lees.
Step 7: Take the dosage
After disgorgement, a portion of the wine is replaced by a dosage. This means that a very small quantity of wine can be reconstituted with still wine. It is determined by the sweetness level of that wine. This determines how the wine will be labeled to the consumer.
Step 8: Corking
Once the dosage is added, the final cork may be placed into the bottle. A wire cage will cover the cork to keep it in place despite the pressure created by the bubbles. The champagne will be bottled for consumption and allowed to rest for up to a year depending on its winery and the style.
Champagne and sparkling wine are considered to be more exceptional than any other variety. The reason is partly due to the added steps that go into making the wine as well as the distinct flavors created by this process. Clearly, Dom Pérignon was onto something when he saw those little bubbles floating up in his glass. Cheers!
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