Fizz facts: sparkling winemaking methods
I thought that I had a good grasp of sparkling winemaking methods until I came across a comprehensive list of fizz-making techniques in the Oxford Companion to Wine. Here is a brief review.
(Mostly known as Méthode Traditionnelle in this country) Still wines are blended and bottled with a small amount of yeast and sugar. The bottles are mostly sealed with a crown seal cap. The yeast ferments the sugar and creates bubbles. They then die and decompose, giving the wine richness from protein and the familiar “bready” flavour. The sediment is allowed to settle in the neck of the bottle where it is frozen and ejected (disgorged) with the trapped yeast inside a plug of ice. The bottle is topped up with a dosage of wine and/or a sugar solution before being sealed with a cork.
Bottles of wine made by the traditional method are transferred into a pressure tank to which the dosage is added and the wine is bottled. Used for small airline bottles and all bottle sizes above a Jereboam.
Wine is made under the traditional method but skipping the labour intensive process used to remove the yeasty sediment. The wine is aged in bottle then tipped into a pressure tank and the sediment is removed by filtration before the wine is bottled.
Developed in the USSR to produce large volumes of cheap fizz. Imagine five connected stainless steel high-pressure tanks. Base wine with sugar and yeast is pumped into the first tank and allowed to ferment. Yeasts struggle to ferment under pressure so the fermenting wine is pumped into the next tank with a fresh supply of yeasts. The second and third tanks are partly filled with wood shavings to increase the surface area for the fermenting yeasts. The fourth and fifth tanks have no yeasts and the wine emerges after three or four weeks reasonably clear. Putin recently permitted sparkling wine made in Russia to be called Champagne.
Charmat Process or Tank Method
Sparkling wine is made by fermenting wine in pressure tanks instead of bottles. The resulting wine (Prosecco is a good example) tends to taste fruity without the yeasty complexity of wines made by traditional method.
The same method is used to make fizzy soft drinks. Carbon dioxide gas is pumped into still wine. The cheapest way to make sparkling wine.
Méthode Ancestrale or Méthode Rurale
Young wines are bottled before they have finished fermenting. The result is a lightly fizzy and often cloudy wine. This method is enjoying a revival with the increasingly popular Pétillant Naturel wines.