Sparkling Wine Production
The Champagne region of France produces much of the famous sparkling wines of the world. The tradition varietals used in Sparkling Wine Production are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier.
The harvest of grapes used in Sparkling Wine Production is usually earlier than it is for grapes that will be made into still wine. This ensures that acidity is higher and the sugars are lower. The result is the light, low alcohol wine that is made during the first fermentation.
Grapes used for Sparkling Wine Production often skip the destemming and crushing process. Instead, pressing occurs immediately when the grapes arrive at the winery. A pneumatic press is usually used to extract the juice because it is delicate and agitates the skins as little as possible.
After the grapes are pressed, they undergo their first fermentation. This produces a still white wine with low alcohol and high acidity. Most sparkling wines undergo their initial fermentation in stainless steel tanks.
Blending sparkling wine is an extremely important, labor intensive process. Depending on whether they are making a vintage or non vintage wine, vintners are able to blend separate lots from different parts of the vineyard or wine from previous years. This is a very difficult part of the Sparkling Wine Production process that requires considerable experience as well as an exceptionally refined palate.
Most sparkling wines are not made entirely from one particular vintage. A quantity of wine from past years is usually added at this time for consistency and balance. This results in a non vintage sparkling wine.
On the other hand, vintage sparkling wine is made with grapes from a single growing season. They are only produced in particularly good years, and usually very high quality and quite expensive.
Bottling & Liqueur de Triage Addition
After blending is complete, it is time for bottling. After the necessary ingredients are added, the bottles are capped. The critical ingredient is the liqueur de triage. This is a combination of yeast and sugar that has been dissolved in wine. After they are capped, the bottles are laid on their side in a cool, temperature-controlled space.
As they rest, a second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Because the carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle, the wine becomes carbonated. The part of the Sparkling Wine Production process rarely takes longer than two weeks and increases the alcohol to around 12%.
Many producers age sparkling wine in the bottle sur lie after the second fermentation is complete. Contact with the dead yeast cells imparts a smooth, creamy character into the wine. High quality sparkling wines that have been aged for a long time have very small bubbles.
After the sparkling wine has been aged on its lees for a sufficient amount of time, it is riddled. Riddling involves working the dead yeast cells to the neck of the bottle. Veuve Clicquot is credited with greatly improving this part of the Sparkling Wine Production process.
During disgorgement, the wine is cooled to the point that a bit of liquid freezes around the dead yeast cells in the neck of the bottle. The goal is to lose as little wine and carbonation as possible, but also remove all of the sediment.
Immediately after disgorgement, an additional dose of sugar may be added to give the wine some residual sweetness. There are several different terms used to identify sparkling wine sugar levels.
Inserting Corks and Labeling
At this point, it is time for inserting corks and adding the capsules and wire cages that secure them. Sparkling wine corks start as cylinders but are changed to their familiar shape by a very tight fit and high pressure. The wine labels are then added, completing the sparkling wine production process.
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