Sparkling wine is perhaps the mostly widely recognizable wine type in the world because it signifies celebration, happiness, company but mostly bubbles. One of the most difficult types of wine to make, sparkling wines when done right possess the same type of aromas, complexity and the intrigue that any top notch red or white wine possess.
What makes sparkling wine different is how it is made and the classifications and the sheer types of sparkling wines that get made.
In the Méthode Champenoise system of making sparkling wine, the juice goes through two fermentations. The first is an alcoholic fermentation. This takes place following the pressing at cool temperatures and results in wines at about 11% alcohol. These wines are blended, cold-stabilized, and filtered. At this point, we bottle them with additional sugar and yeast — a process called tirage. We seal the bottles with cup-shaped plastic inserts and metal crown caps, then stack them horizontally for the second fermentation, called the prise de mousse, or the “setting of the sparkle”. Following this second fermentation, the wine ages on its yeast lees, becoming softer and more layered in flavor. At J Vineyards & Winery, our sparkling wines can age anywhere from two to eight years.
After aging, the sparkling wine is riddled — an operation that gathers the yeast sediment in the bottle and traps it in the cup-shaped plastic insert near the mouth. This used to be done by hand as one person would turn every single bottle multiple times. Today, we have “riddling cages” that hold 504 bottles. These are automatically riddled, or turned, at the time and frequency determined by our winemaker.
In the final stages of the process, during “disgorgement”, we place the bottles neck-down in a freezing solution, so that the liquid in the neck, enrobing the yeast sediment, freezes. Once an ice plug has formed, the bottles are uncapped, and the plug with the yeast sediment trapped inside will literally shoot out as a result of the sparkling wine’s internal bottle pressure.
Finally, during dosage, we add a small amount of a mixture made from sugar and reserve wine to the disgorged bottles as a final artistic gesture. The sweetness of the dosage is what gives our sparkling wine its designation of Extra Brut and Brut, with Extra Brut having the driest flavor. The wine will then lay down for six to twelve months prior to being released.
The style of winemaking which produces sparkling wine is practiced all over the world. With differing emphasis on fruitiness, bubble size, and methods, each country is home to a distinct version of its own. Some popular varieties from different regions are:
- Sekt: This German version of sparkling wine can vary in sweetness and dryness and is typically less alcoholic than Champagne. During the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, France was given ownership of the classification “Champagne.” Germany’s sparkling wine has been known as Sekt ever since.
- Prosecco: This popular Italian sparkling wine has large bubbles and a fruity aroma—making it a common choice for mixed drinks like mimosas or bellinis. Made with Glera grapes as well as Bianchetta Trevigiana, this is most often a dry or very dry sparkling wine.
- Cava: A Spanish sparkling wine made from Macabeu grapes, this variety is said to have very similar flavor to Champagnes.
- French sparkling wine: Sparkling wines can come from France (outside of the Champagne region) and are made in a variety of sweet, dry and rosé varieties.
- American sparkling wine: From blends using traditional Champagne grapes to vintages with a completely different recipe, there are endless flavors to discover in sparkling wines.