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Sparkling wine is wine made where the process the winemaker followed to produce the wine includes carbonation and results in gas bubbles being trapped within the wine. Champagne is simply sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France – no other sparkling wines can use the label Champagne. The Champagne region in France is about 130 kilometres Northeast of Paris. Champagne is made with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes and is produced using a costly method called the Méthode Traditionelle (Traditional Method). The Méthode Traditionelle is also referred to as Méthode Champenoise or Metodo Classico (Classic Method).
To be organic, as per red wine or white wine, a sparkling wine or Champagne must come from a winery where at no stage during the wine making process have synthetic chemicals been used. Organic wine doesn’t contain harmful chemical pesticides, fungicides or herbicides. It’s better for you and better for our environment.
The sparkling wine making process
There are 4 common methods for making sparkling wine, they are:
Méthode Traditionelle – Used for Champagne, Cava, American sparkling wine, Italian Franciacorta, etc.
Charmat Method (Metodo Italiano, cuvée close) – Used for Prosecco, Lambrusco and other lightly sparkling wines.
Tank Method – Used for most small format sparkling wine (187 mL etc.)
Carbonation – Carbonated with the addition of CO2. Not common, usually used for a low quality base-model wine
The Méthode Traditionelle wine making process
Step 1: The Base Wine
The base wine for most sparkling wines tastes much more tart than standard still wines. This is because grapes destined for sparkling wines are picked earlier. Base wines are made in a process similar to white wines.
Step 2: Adding Sugar and Yeast (‘Liqueur di Tirage’)
This is the primary difference between still and sparkling wines. In this step, additional yeast and sugar is added to the base wine in a closed environment. As the yeast eats the sugar it releases carbon dioxide. Since the extra carbon dioxide has nowhere to go, it pressurizes the container and carbonates the wine.
Step 3: Aging on the Lees and Riddling
Lees are flecks of dead yeast cells left in a bottle, barrel or tank of fermented wine. A wine that is aged ‘sur lees’ (‘on the lees‘) will taste a little bit richer on the mid-palate (i.e. in the middle of your tongue). This is a technique commonly practiced on both white and sparkling wines.
Riddling is the act of rotating a sparkling wine bottle upside down over a period of time, turning each bottle 90 degrees every day. The purpose of riddling is to slowly collect the dead yeast bits into the neck of the wine bottle.
Step 4: Disgorge and Dosage
Once all the crud is collected into the neck of the bottle, the neck is put headfirst into frozen brine or a liquid nitrogen bath. Freezing the neck also freezes this crud of lees into a cube. When the cap is popped off prior to dosage, the cube of lees flies out and leaves clear sparkling wine in the bottle. This is known as disgorgement.
After disgorgement, one last mixture of wine and sugar is added for flavour (and to fill the partially empty bottle). This last step is called dosage or liqueur d’expédition. Depending on the sweetness level of the Champagne you buy (from Brut Nature or Doux) you can have no sugar to a few tablespoons per bottle.
At The Organic Wine Cellar we have a number of wonderful sparkling organic wines from Australia. The Harris Organic Wines Madeleine Claire Sparkling Shiraz is a classic Australian variety made using the Méthode Traditionelle. At just $14.50 per bottle the Angove Cuvee Brut Sparkling is exceptional value for money. The Tamburlaine Au Naturel Preservative Free Sparkling and the Raw Vine Estate Preservative Free Blanc de Blanc are immensely popular as they are the only certified organic and preservative free sparkling wines available in Australia.
Organic Champagne producers are tiny in the scheme of things but do produce some fabulous sparkling wines that truly express the Champagne terroir. Typically they are small batch single-vineyard wines, delicately hand-crafted. We can source organic Champagne from producers such as Fleury, Bedel, Frank Pascal, Courtin and David Leclapart from as little as $50.00 per bottle; but please note a minimum order does apply. Call us on 1300 659 330 if you’d like to place an order.
Wine Folly 2016, ‘Where Do Champagne Bubbles Come From?’ <http://winefolly.com/review/champagne-bubbles-how-is-champagne-made/>, viewed 16 October 2016.