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Friday, October 30, 2015

Magic Bubbles

                                                                                        Photo by Sam Hanna 
Dom Perignon was a monk at a French abbey in the 17th century.  He was also the abbey’s winemaker and is often credited (albeit erroneously) with inventing Champagne.  Legend has it that upon Perignon’s first taste of the sparkling wine he shouted, “Come quickly, brothers---I’m drinking stars!”   Today there are typically three different methods that are used to make these stars…some are less magical than others.  Let’s begin with the most magical.

The method used by Dom Perignon is referred to as  secondary fermentation in the bottle.  Once the blend is made, the wine is place in a bottle along with yeast and a very small amount of sugar to fuel the yeast.   Like in making bread, these yeast give off carbon dioxide (bubbles).  Typically, this carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere during regular fermentation, however, in this secondary fermentation method the bubbles remain in the bottle as the cork prevents them from escaping.  This method is the most expensive of all methods. 

By law, all Champagne must be made via a secondary fermentation in the bottle.  (And, by law only sparkling wine made in the Champagne district of France can be called Champagne.)  French laws also have copyrighted this process as the “methode Champenoise,” and only Champagne producers can use this name.   Secondary fermentation in a bottle in other countries must be called something different even though the process is the same.  In Italy, for example, high-end sparkling wine from Italy's Franciacorta region that sells for close to $100 a bottle, uses the term “Metodo classico,” or classical method.  Cava from Spain is produced using this same process.

The second process to make a sparkling wine is called “charmant.”    With charmant the wine undergoes the secondary fermentation in bulk tanks and is then bottled under pressure.  This method is used, for example, in the production of Prosecco.  It is less expensive than the classical method Champenoise where fermentation occurs in the bottle.

The third way that bubbles are added to a wine is the least enchanting.  Similar to the process used in soft drinks, this last way involves simply the addition of carbon dioxide gas.  Inexpensive sparkling wines from all over the world are made in this fashion. 

Have a magical autumn, hopefully filled with stars and lots of bubbles.

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