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Contrary to legend and popular belief, Dom Pérignondid not invent sparkling wine, though he did make important contributions to the production and quality of both still and sparkling Champagne wines. The oldest recorded sparkling wine is Blanquette de Limoux, which was apparently invented by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire, near Carcassonnein 1531. They achieved this by bottling the wine before the initial fermentation had ended. Over a century later, the English scientist and physician Christopher Merretdocumented the addition of sugar to a finished wine to create a second fermentation, six years before Dom Pérignon set foot in the Abbeyof Hautvillers and almost 40 years before it was claimed that the famed Benedictine monk invented Champagne. Merret presented a paper at the Royal Society, in which he detailed what is now called méthode champenoise, in 1662. Merret’s discoveries coincided also with English glass-makers’ technical developments that allowed bottles to be produced that could withstand the required internal pressures during secondary fermentation. French glass-makers at this time could not produce bottles of the required quality or strength. As early as 1663 the poet Samuel Butler referred to “brisk champagne”.
In France the first sparkling Champagne was created accidentally; the pressure in the bottle led it to be called “the devil’s wine” (le vin du diable), as bottles exploded or corks popped. In 1844 Adolphe Jaquesson invented the museletto prevent the corks from blowing out. Initial versions were difficult to apply and inconvenient to remove. Even when it was deliberately produced as a sparkling wine, Champagne was for a very long time made by the méthode rurale, where the wine was bottled before the initial fermentation had finished. Champagne did not use the méthode champenoiseuntil the 19th century, about 200 years after Merret documented the process.
Main Varietals for Sparkling Wines
France: Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier
Cremants: Same as Champagne plus Chenin Blanc, Gamay, Auxerrois, and many others
Italy: Glera- Prosecco, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Blanc- Franciacorta
Spain: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Macabeo, Xarel-lo, Parellada, Trepat
World: Mainly Champagne varietals along with some varieties like Shiraz in Australia
- Blanc de Blanc: A sparkling wine made exclusively from white grapes, which almost always means that it’s 100 percent chardonnay. However, champagne made from other white grapes, such as pinot blanc, arbanne or petit meslier, is also entitled to this designation, although these are very rare.
- Blanc de Noir: A sparkling wine made exclusively from red grapes. It can be 100 percent pinot noir, 100 percent pinot meunier, or a blend of the two varieties.
- Cuvee: During pressing, the cuvée is the first 2,050 liters of juice from a 4,000-kilogram press, which represents the finest portion of the pressing. Can also refer to the finished wine or blend.
- Grower Champagne: Champagne grown and bottled by a single estate, from their own vines.
- Cava: Cava is made the same way that Champagne is produced, but produced in Spain most often using indigenous Spanish grapes. Macabeu , Xarel·lo and Paralleda are the most common.
- Prosecco: A sparkling wine made in the Veneto region of Italyaround the city of . Made with Prosecco (a.k.a. Glera) grapes. The wine is produced using an affordable method called the ‘Tank Method’
- Cremant: A style of sparkling wine made at a slightly lower pressure than traditional champagne, usually 3.5 to 4 atmospheres instead of the standard six. This term is now used for sparkling wines in other parts of France but has been banned in Champagne. It can include grapes other then the traditional Champagne grapes.
- Method Traditionnelle/Méthode Champenoise: The traditional method of making champagne or sparkling wine, involving a second fermentation in bottle. This is the officially-approved term today in the European Union for sparkling wines made by the champagne method
- Charmont (tank) Method: The base wines are added together with the sugar and yeast mixture (Tirage) into a large tank. As the wine has a second fermentation, the CO2 released from the fermentation causes the tank to pressurize, where after wines are then filtered, dosed and bottled without aging
- Transfer Method: This method is identical to the Traditional method except that wines need not be riddled and disgorged in the same manner. Instead, the bottles are emptied into a pressurized tank and sent through pressurized filters to remove the dead yeast bits (lees). Then, the wines are bottled using
- Chaptalization: The adding of sugar to grape must in order to raise its degree of potential alcohol.
- Dosage: The addition of the shipping liqueur just after disgorging is called “dosage“. The liquid consists of a mixture of reserve wine and very pure cane sugar
- Disgorgement: The process of removing the yeast sediments after fermentation and aging in bottle. The sediment must be collected in the neck of the bottle through riddling, whether manually or through the use of a gyropalette. Typically, the bottle of the neck is then frozen to collect the sediment into a solid mass, and then this mass is ejected when the capsule is removed.
How to read the sugar levels
Brut Nature = no added sugar and under 3 grams/litre of residual sugars
Extra-Brut = between 0 and 6 g/litre of residual sugars
Brut = less than 12 g/litre of residual sugars
Extra sec (or Extra Dry)= between 12 & 17 g/litre of residual sugars
Sec (or Dry) =between 17 & 32 g/litre of residual sugars
Demi-Sec = between 32 & 50 g/litre of residual sugars
Doux = more than 50 g/litre of residual sugars