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Thread: Sparkling Wine.

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Normanton, West Yorkshire

    Default Sparkling Wine.

    The following tuition for sparkling wine is based on my own experience, others may do things in a different manner but it works for me. We are going to cover the process from making the wine to bottle priming to riddling to freezing and disgorging.

    The most important thing to remember when making any form of sparkling wine is to ensure you have the correct pressure resistant bottles, stoppers and wire cages. If you do not adhere to this important rule you are simply making glass hand grenades.

    The second most important thing to remember is the choice of yeast, the reason for this is to ensure a solid sediment deposit after riddling. You will find it is necessary to move the bottles from place to place several time during the process, hence a fluffy sediment would be a pain. I use Lalvin 1118 for exactly that purpose.
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  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Normanton, West Yorkshire


    Making the wine.

    Make your wine in the usual way, I try to avoid too much alcohol (SG 1.080) as I like to ensure the yeast is still well active when bottling.
    When the SG reaches 1.000 it's time to bottle, allthough you can ferment dryer if that's what you prefer...remember do not add sulphite, sorbate or filter. I also do not worry that the wine is cloudy at this stage, it will clear in the bottle.

    Priming and bottling.

    Sanitise bottles and stoppers and leave to drip dry, add 3/4 of a teaspoon of sugar to each bottle, do not be tempted to add more remember there is still residual fermentable sugar in the wine (1.000). You also want to avoid over carbonation as upon opening the bottle it will erupt and you'll lose most of your wine (even though it's fun).
    Rack the wine into your bottles leaving an airspace of about 1 inch 2cm below the stopper. Now fit your stoppers and wire them safe with the wire cages. Give each bottle a jolly good shake to disperse the sugar and store upside down in a warm room for 14 days. I use a wine rack laid on it's side for this purpose as seen below.

    Last edited by Duffbeer; 10-11-2007 at 10:12 PM.
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  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Normanton, West Yorkshire



    After 14 days in a warm room the carbonation should be complete and it's now time to store in a cool place. I'm lucky as I have a cellar but an area that maintains a steady temperature is OK.
    You will now notice a build up of sediment in the bottle neck, hence the reason for the riddling process. This is simply a process of picking up the bottle by the base and briskly twisting it from side to side and gently tapping the top of the bottle on the surface it's sat upon. This ensures the sediment is forced to the bottom against the stopper. I riddle every day until the wine is clear and all sediment at the stopper. As you can see below the sediment is becoming compact and the wine is clearing.

    You can see how compact the sediment is becoming, hence the advice at the start regarding choice of yeast. This particular bottle was totally clear two weeks after this picture was taken. I generally leave them a total of three months before proceeding to freezing and disgorging.
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  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Normanton, West Yorkshire


    Freezing and disgorging.

    Not everyone follows this process, with a well compacted sediment it is possible to decant in one pour and remain clear. I however prefer to be able to pour to the glass and enjoy every last drop without worrying about the sediment being disrupted.

    This process needs to be carried out relatively prompt, so I popped over to Bob's where he had a camcorder, web cam and his super camera on hand to try capture things as they happened.

    The freezing process is relatively simple and is just a case of inserting the bottles neck down into the deep freezer. The neck being the only part we need to freeze, I find snuggling them between already frozen items ideal. The bottles should remain in the freezer for approx 2 1/2 hours until the neck is completely frozen, do not allow the whole bottle to freeze as it may well break.

    Whilst waiting for the bottles to freeze it is a good time to get things prepared.
    You will need a small amount of a similar wine ready in a jug for topping up what is disgorged. A replacement stopper for each bottle and a replacement wire cage in case one should break also a small scoop or spoon handle for scraping out the sediment will come in handy.

    After the allowed time for freezing has expired check the bottles by giving a gentle swirl, the wine in the neck should remain still, if so then it's time to disgorge.
    The best place is obviously over a kitchen sink so all the waste can be simply washed away.
    Remove the wire cage and the the stopper from the bottle over the edge of the sink, some of the sediment will simply just drop out then scrape the remaining sediment out, top up the bottle and fit a new stopper, replace the wire cage securely and VoilĂQUACK!! job done.
    It is then quite OK to store the bottle upright or on it's side and age, mine will be on the table on Christmas day.
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    Last edited by Duffbeer; 10-11-2007 at 10:17 PM.
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  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Knottingley West Yorkshire

    Default Some more pics

    Fantastic job Karl..well done

    thanks for sharing
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    Last edited by lockwood1956; 04-11-2007 at 05:49 PM.
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  6. #6
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Knottingley West Yorkshire

    Default Some great information here

    Taken from

    Sparkling Wines... save the bubbles ...
    Wines with bubbles are associated, for many people, primarily with festivities and celebrations. More precious and complicated to make than still wines, they have traditionally been considered as occasional extravagances. With higher acidity, more delicate flavor, their unique palate tingle and lower alcohol than most table wines, they are, however, some of the most versatile wines to accompany food. Modern production techniques have brought sparkling wines to market that are more affordable and accessible for everyday enjoyment.
    Bubbles in wine were known to vintners long before they could reliably capture and preserve this phenomenon in the bottle. As a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, carbon dioxide is released in the liquid to provide a "sparkle." In the Northern climates, cold weather sometimes arrives early after harvest, stopping fermentation before the sugar is completely used up. Warm weather in the spring often causes it to start up again, resulting in carbonated wine. The English imported wine in casks. They found also that adding sugar to tart, acidic wine would often soon cause it to sparkle and they developed a liking for it. English bottles were much stronger than those in France and not as inclined to burst when the pressure built
    Early success making sparkling wines in the French district of Champagne made its name famous, so much so that "champagne" has become generic for sparkling wine, to the eternal aggravation of the resident producers1. The Champagne Appellation has some of the strictest, most exacting standards for growing, producing and labeling in all the wine world. Cheap American brands copy the Champagne name, but neither the standards, nor the methods. Quality American producers emulate the standards, apply the traditional production methods and, out of respect and in deference, leave the Champagne name to the originals.
    The MĂ©thode Champenoise involves many specialized steps in both viticulture and enology has taken centuries to evolve, through the contributions of scores of nameless inventors, innovators and workers. Modernization and refinement of the "traditional" sparkling wine process continues to this day, although its beginnings are in antiquity.
    Around the 1690s, a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon made some very significant developments as cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers in Epernay. He had the idea to harvest selectively, over a period of days rather than all at once, so that only the ripest fruit was taken with each pass. He also is credited with inventing the Coquard or "basket" wine press and using it to make the first "Blanc de Noir".
    Another of his major developments was to blend wines of different vineyards and varieties to achieve better balance between their individual characteristics. He was an excellent taster and his cuvĂ©e system is still followed closely to this day by the house of MoĂȘt & Chandon to produce their finest Champagne.
    Finally, although corks had already been used by the Romans as closures for wine bottles, and the seagoing and trading English had corks and made sparkling wine several decades earlier than the landlocked Champagne area, Dom Perignon has been credited with the idea of using string to secure these stoppers in the bottles, thus retaining the sparkle for long periods of time.
    His celebrated remark "I am drinking stars" brought him great fame, but Dom Perignon did not, in fact, "invent" Champagne. There is even a possibility he may have uttered his phrase, not out of jubilation, but rather from remorse. It is fairly certain that Frere Perignon long attempted to find a way to remove or prevent the bubbles, before he accepted and embraced them. His innovations of selective harvesting and blending probably were experiments towards this end.
    The traditional way of making sparkling wine begins with the grape harvest, which is always early in the season compared to the picking of still wines. Picking when sugars are relatively low keeps the alcohol low, since secondary fermentation will boost it later. Also, the youthful acids help to preserve the wine over the long course of its development. The grapes are pressed immediately, by-passing the crushing equipment, to avoid both oxidation and color in the wine.
    The initial fermentation takes place most often in stainless steel tanks, although many varieties of container, from concrete vats to redwood tanks, are used. After the usual period of three weeks or more, when all of the natural grape sugar has been converted to alcohol, the wine is "dry." While the wine rests in a cold environment, solids and particles settle to the bottom. The clear wine on top is then racked or siphoned off the murky lees. Sometimes it is aged in oak barrels during or after this clarification and racking. The new wine is quite weak in flavor, very tart and low in alcohol. It may then be blended with stocks of older wine saved from previous vintages, to keep a consistent "house" style, or cuvée.
    At bottling, a small amount of sugar that has been dissolved in old wine, along with special yeast is added. This liqueur de tirage assures a uniform secondary fermentation in the bottles. Until the application of three scientific contributions, making sparkling wine could be more dangerous than making bombs. The proper amount of sugar to add for balanced wine was quantified by M. Chaptal in 1801; Pharmacist André François invented, in 1836, a way to measure the remaining amount of sugar in wine; and Pasteur explained the fermentation process in 1857.
    Some producers now insert a small plastic reservoir, called a bidule, which later aids in collecting and removing the sediment. After closing with cork-lined metal crown caps, the bottles are stored on their sides in cool cellars while the yeast ferments the sugar, boosting the alcohol and producing the bubbles of carbon dioxide. At this point, the wine is only half made, although the wine will become complete and reach the consumer in this same bottle. The cuvée is now en tirage. This phase may span from two to several years. Meantime, the bottle stacks are observed for the inevitable breakage that occurs; flawed glass is sometimes unable to withstand the pressure that gradually increases to 100 pounds or more per square inch.
    During the secondary fermentation, sediments form from dead yeast and solids left behind during the initial clarification procedures. Consolidating the sediments for removal is another long process, known as remuage. This sediment is very fine, sludgy and sticky. Removing it from the bottle, without removing the wine, is a problem. Getting it to collect in the neck, near the opening, is the first step. In 1805, Nicole-Barbe Clicquot Ponsardin, became a young widow and head of a major Champagne house. Seeking assistance from gravity, she cut holes in her kitchen table, in order to invert the bottles. She found that shaking helped loosen the sediments, although some still stuck to the bottle bottoms. In 1810, she employed Antoine Muller and he improved the procedure by beginning with the bottle at a 45° angle, gradually increasing the angle with each shaking, until the bottom was up, the neck straight down.
    Traditionally, the bottles are placed at a forty-five degree angle, necks-down, in specially built "A-frame" racks, called pupitres. An experienced worker grabs the bottom of each bottle, giving it a small shake, an abrupt back and forth twist, and a slight increase in tilt, letting it drop back in the rack. This action, called riddling, recurs every one to three days over a period of several weeks. The shaking and twist is intended dislodge particles that have clung to the glass and prevent the sediments from caking in one spot; the tilt and drop encourage the particles, assisted by gravity, to move ever more downward; the time in between riddlings allows the particles to settle out of solution again.
    Computer-automated machines called Gyropalettes accomplish the riddling chore in batches, using movable bins containing hundreds of bottles rather than by the individual bottle. Invented in Spain, they became common in all sparkling wine producing countries the late 1970s. This mechanization has meant saving time, space and production cost for the producers. Hand riddling requires a minimum of eight weeks to complete; gyropalettes finish the task in under ten days.
    While automation means that a bit of the romance of wine is lost for consumers, this application of modern technology compensates by increasing product consistency from bottle to bottle. Production cost savings also has allowed the introduction of traditional method sparkling wines into the lower price end of the market where formerly only bulk produced wines competed.
    Whether riddled by hand or machine, in the end, the bottles are standing nearly straight upside down, with the sediment now resting on the caps. Keeping in this position, the bottles are transferred to bins where they are stored, necks down, until ready for shipping to market, at which time the sediment is removed, the contents are topped up and the sweetness adjusted, and the crown caps replaced with corks, wire hoods, and foils.
    Removing the sediment from the bottles is a process called dégorgement, or disgorging. The bottle necks are dipped in a solution of freezing brine or glycol. This freezes a plug of wine and sediment in the top of the neck. Skilled workers then invert each bottle as they uncap it, releasing a small amount of wine as the plug of frozen sediment flies out. The bottle is then topped up with a dosage of reserve wine, sweetened to the right amount for the determined style, also known as the liqueur d'expedition. Modern bottling lines accomplish these tasks mechanically with amazing speed and precision. Méthode Champenoise takes normally from two to five years to complete, depending on the house style.
    In addition to the normal smell and taste criteria of still wine, sparkling wine quality is judged by the size of the bubbles (smaller is better), their persistence (long-lasting is better) and their mouth feel (how well they are integrated into the wine and the relative smoothness or coarseness of their texture).
    Traditional disgorging at Schramsberg, 1977
    (click to enlarge)
    There are, in fact, other processes to put the sparkle in wine. Techniques have been developed that are very different and, many would argue, inferior to the MĂ©thode Champenoise, based on these areas of judgment. Twentieth century technology brought, besides injected carbonation, the Charmat or "bulk" process and the "transfer" process.
    Sparkling wine made by the transfer process, follows the same procedure as Méthode Champenoise, up to the point of bottling. The secondary fermentation does not take place in the actual bottle sold to the customer. The wine is bottled en tirage. However, following secondary fermentation, the fermentation bottles are emptied under pressure and the wine filtered. This replaces the rémuage, riddling and dégorgement steps. The transferred wine is then bottled under pressure into a new set of bottles that are shipped to market.
    The transfer method, invented in Germany, does not have a proprietary name (possibly because no individual or commercial entity would claim it). On wines sold in the United States, it is only announced by a deceptively subtle packaging regulation. The label statement "Fermented in this bottle" means MĂ©thode Champenoise, whereas "Fermented in the bottle" refers to the transfer process; so much for reading the fine print.
    Transfer is considerably less expensive and time-consuming than MĂ©thode Champenoise. The transfer method goes from harvest to bottling in as little as ninety days, up to one year. Proponents claim the transfer method produces a more consistent product from bottle to bottle; detractors say the process strips flavor elements, especially yeast flavors. Many Champagne makers commonly use the transfer method to produce any size bottle smaller than 750 milliliter or larger than 1.5 liter.
    Eugene Charmat, a Frenchman, invented his process in 1907. Instead of individual bottles to produce the secondary fermentation, he invented the glass-lined tank. The wine stays under constant pressure in bulk, through the filtering and bottling process, which takes as little as ninety days from picking to bottling. It is also known as the bulk process.
    Both the transfer and Charmat process are time and money savers. There are knowledgeable wine critics who contend that the different methods of producing sparking wine can each produce equal quality product given the same fruit to begin with. These critics are in the minority and commercial attempts at high quality Charmat or bulk process sparklers are few and far between.
    Differences between the processes are readily noticeable in their end products. Both the transfer and Charmat wines usually have larger, less-long-lasting bubbles. MĂ©thode Champenoise bubbles are usually more integrated into the wine and longer lasting. Also, because of the additional time MĂ©thode Champenoise takes to clear the wine of sediment, the flavors of yeast autolysis (chemical breakdown) add complexity and a creaminess to the wine that is absent in the faster methods.
    Style is determined by the maker. There is a Common Market Standard for levels of residual sugar (in parentheses) in sparking wines, but adherence is voluntary. Brut nature (.0-.5%) should taste bone dry. Brut (.5-1.5%) should taste dry with no perception of sweetness. Extra Dry (1.2-2.0%) tastes slightly sweet and is a style invented for the American market that "talks dry and drinks sweet." Sec (1.7-3.5%) literally translates to "dry", but is noticeably sweet. No wonder the public is confused! Demi-Sec (3.3-5.0%) is very sweet and Doux (over 5.0%) is extremely sweet. (see our Tasting Notes)
    French sparkling wine not made in the Champagne region is labeled Vins Mousseux. Italians call their sparkling wine Spumante, the most popular one made in a sweet style with Muscat grapes grown around the town of Asti. Sekt is the German designation for sparkling wine. The Spanish call their sparkling wines Cava, if made by MĂ©thode Champenoise.
    When labeling American sparkling wines, producers don't conform to the European standards of dryness, although they do follow the same hierarchy of nomenclature: "Natural" is drier than "Brut", which is drier than "Extra Dry", etc.. The general guide for American "champagne" is: the cheaper they are, the sweeter they taste.
    The major varietals used for (French) Champagne are Chardonnay, Meunier, and Pinot Noir. Many American producers of quality sparkling wines adhere to this list, although very little Meunier is grown here. Other sparkling wine producers worldwide can and do use anything from Thompson Seedless to various clones of Muscat. Blanc de Blancs is used to designate white wine made only from white (green) grapes; Blanc de Noirs is white wine made only from black (red) grapes.
    Most sparking wine is non-vintage, which allows the winemaker to blend older wine with the new, to achieve a consistent flavor style. These non-vintaged wines are ready to consume immediately and should be within one or two years. Slowly but surely, they will begin to deteriorate; further aging does not improve these wines at all.
    Vintage-dated Champagne or sparkling wine can usually benefit from some bottle-aging, provided the consumer enjoys the older, richer, fatter, less vivacious flavors that will ensue. There is generally no improvement more than ten years beyond the vintage date.
    Sometimes a MĂ©thode Champenoise producer will leave the wine en tirage for an extended period of years and then bottle a "Reserve" or "Late Disgorged" bottling. These wines are mostly vintage dated, usually a decade or more old when released for sale, and also immediately ready to consume.
    Consumers would do well to realize that aging is part of the process of making sparkling wine and the vast majority will lose both flavor and fizz after a couple of years. Years later, on that special wedding anniversary, it is much better to enjoy a freshly-purchased bottle of the same brand originally enjoyed than to suffer through one saved from the event itself.

    1There is a village, above Lake Neuchatel in Switzerland, also named Champagne, that began producing still white wine 700 years before sparkling wine was first made in France. although most of their wine is locally consumed, due to EU regulations, the 39 Swiss growers are no longer permitted to use the name of their village on wine bottles! BACK

    RELATED LINKSJohn Holland's Champagne Magic is an excellent site devoted to true (French) Champagne. It answers nearly any question you might have and provides many more details on houses, types, styles, regulations, history, etc. and provides maps as well as charts of vintages, bottle sizes, interesting statistical facts, and so forth.
    Bruce Zoecklein of Virginia Tech's Department of Food Science and Technology, provides a more detailed Review of MĂ©thode Champenoise Production, providing insight into the variations and subtleties in practices and chemistry that can result in wide flavor variations among sparkling wines.
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  7. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2005
    Knottingley West Yorkshire

    Default More Info

    A Review of MĂ©thode Champenoise Production

    Author: Bruce Zoecklein, Associate Professor and Enology Specialist, Department of Food Science and Technology, Virginia Tech
    Publication Number 463-017, Posted December 2002

    "MĂ©thode champenoise represents the best expression of the vine"

    Centuries of experience have enabled the sparkling wine producer to refine the art of bottle-fermented sparkling winemaking to the system known as méthode champenoise. This system, however, is not a rigid one. Certain steps are prescribed by law in France, while few are required in America. Within certain guidelines there is considerable variation in production philosophy and technique regarding méthode champenoise. Stylistic decisions are vast and include viticultural practices, cultivars, maturity, pressing vs. crushing, types of press and press pressures, press fractions, phenol levels, use of SO2 and the oxidative condition of the base wine, yeast for primary and secondary fermentation, barrel fermentation and aging, fermentation temperatures, malolactic fermentation, post primary fermentation lees contact, age of cuvée, reserve wine, blending, time spent sur lie, nature of the dosage, and CO2 pressure. This publication describes production philosophy and practices of méthode champenoise producers.
    Viticultural Considerations

    The array of viticultural parameters affecting méthode champenoise palatability is broad. Environmental and viticultural factors influencing cuvée chemistry include meso climate, canopy climate, soil moisture, temperature, berry size, rootstock, asynchronous development, fruit maturity and leaf area/fruit weight or fruit weight/pruning weight. For the producer, understanding the relationships between vineyard management and wine quality may be even more difficult for sparkling wines than for table wines. Cuvées are evaluated and blended when they have the better part of their lives ahead to age and develop. This requires considerable insight and may tend to obscure the relationships between vineyard management activities and sparkling wine palatability.
    With the exception of the Mosel of Germany, the Champagne region is the most northern significant grape producing macroclimate in the world. Epernay is on the 49° parallel, the same as the Washington/Canadian border. The total degree days in Champagne average around 1890, as compared to 2,340-2,610 for Napa and 2,160-3,600 for Sonoma County. The daytime temperatures seen in Napa are higher with cooler nighttime temperatures than in Champagne. As a result of increased solar radiation, grapes tend to ripen more quickly and potentially reach a higher level of maturity in Napa than in the Champagne region. This is true for most other regions in California as well. In California, grapes suitable for producing highly palatable sparkling wines are generally grown in regions I to III (Amerine et al., 1980). In warm regions, great care must be given to harvesting early enough to retain desirable acidities and pH values. A primary problem in warm climates is the production of a base wine that is not too heavy in body or varietal character, too alcoholic, or too colored. Warm climate wines, by and large, offer more definitive fruit flavors, less complexity and lower acidity than Champagne, and they develop more quickly.
    Among the viticultural options affecting grape components either directly or indirectly, mesoclimate (site climate) is considered one of the most important. Mesoclimate has been divided into two general temperature zones, Alpha and Beta (Jackson, 1987). In Alpha zones, maturity occurs just before the mean monthly temperature drops to 10°C (Jackson, 1991). Specifically, Alpha zones are those where the mean temperature at the time of ripening, for a particular variety, is between 9-15°C. In warm climates, the length of the growing season is more than adequate to ripen most grape varieties which, therefore, mature in the warm part of the season. In Alpha zones, day temperatures are moderate and night temperatures are usually cool, creating desirable conditions for the development of important secondary grape metabolites. On the other hand, in Beta zones the majority of grapes ripen well before temperatures begin to drop. Specifically, Beta zones are those with a mean temperature above 16°C at the time of ripening for a particular variety.
    It is generally accepted that a cool climate that allows the fruit to stay on the vine longer while retaining desirable acidities is important in the production of base wine which will develop the needed complexity during aging sur lies. If the field temperatures and heat summation units were the sole parameters affecting the grapevine climate, then we need only consider the macroclimate in analyzing the temperature effects on quality. The real situation, of course, is not that simple. Solar radiation, wind velocity, and to a lesser extent, sky temperature can give ranges of berry temperatures of more than 15°C above to 3°C below the air temperature (Kliewer and Lider, 1968). These variables are further influenced by row orientation, training system, trellis height and vine vigor. There are several reasons why comparisons between climates, secondary metabolite production, and grape and wine quality have been confounded. First is the effect of crop load. Crop load, and most significantly, the ratio of exposed leaf area-to-crop load, can have a profound effect on the rate of maturity. Fruit maturity and the rate of fruit maturity can influence grape and wine quality. Another factor often overlooked is asynchronous growth (either berry, cluster or vine) (Due, 1994). This will also delay maturity, yet few comparisons of climate and wine quality have taken this into account.
    To some m<Ă©thode champenoise producers, a high malic acid level in the grape is considered a desirable characteristic. Malic acid is principally influenced by maturity, crop level, and temperatures (day and night). Short term exposure to high temperatures is significant to fruit malic acid levels, to say nothing of the effects on phenols and aroma components. The effect of brief exposure to high temperature may raise serious doubts about how one integrates, over time, climatic parameters such as heat summation to fruit composition. For a review comparing climate factors see Bloodworth (1976), Jackson (1995), Poinsaut (1989), Pool (1989), Reynolds (1997), and Riedlin (1989).

    Some of the many cultivars utilized in various growing regions for méthode champenoise are given in Table 1. Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot meunier, and Pinot blanc are among the more popular varieties. The concentrations of amino nitrogen, acetates, diethyl succinates, and organic acids are strongly affected by the varieties used in base wine production.
    Grapes used in the Champagne region are almost exclusively Pinot noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot meunier. There is a tendency for Pinot meunier to be replaced by Chardonnay or Pinot noir, both of which give greater yield and produce higher quality (Hardy, 1989). Chardonnay gives life, acid, freshness, and aging potential to méthode champenoise. Care must be taken to avoid excess maturity (in warmer climates particularly), which produces a dominant, aggressively varietal character. Warm climate Chardonnay cuvées may suffer from a narrow flavor profile, high "melony" aroma notes, and lack of freshness, liveliness and length. Additionally, rich fertile soils can cause this variety to produce foliage and grassy aromas. When combined with Pinot meunior, Chardonnay has a greater capacity to age harmoniously and for a longer time (Hardy, 1989).
    Table 1. Varieties Used for MĂ©thode Champenoise

    Cool Regions Warm Regions Hot Regions Pinot noir Chenin blanc Parallada Chardonnay Chardonnay Chardonnay Meunier Gamay Xarello Gamay Pinot noir Macabeo Pinot blanc Meunier Pinot noir Chenin blanc Meunier Semillon

    Source: Dry and Ewart (1985). Regions based on UCD heat summation units.
    Pinot noir adds depth, complexity, backbone, strength, and fullness (what the French call "carpentry") to méthode champenoise wines. These generalizations are broad and become nebulous when one considers, for example, that there are over 82 different clones of Pinot noir in the Champagne viticole. Clonal selection continues. Pinot noir is seldom used by itself, even in Blanc de noirs. Uneven ripening in Pinot noir is often a problem for producers trying to minimize excessive color extraction. Pinot noir at the same degrees Brix as Chardonnay generally has less varietal character.
    Pinot blanc, like Pinot meunier, is a clonal variant of Pinot noir. It is generally neutral, but has some Chardonnay traits with a bright fruit character that is somewhat thin. Pinot blanc, like the Pinot meunier used in France, ages more quickly than Chardonnay, yet adds fullness, body and length to the finish. It may be a desirable blend constituent. Pinot blanc has a tendency to drop acid more quickly on the vine and, like Pinot meunier, usually has a lower titratable acidity than Chardonnay. It is, therefore, harvested somewhat early.
    Fruit Maturity

    The chemistry at maturity of several California sparkling wine cultivars is given in Table 2. Grape harvests should be based upon a determination of desired style. Méthode champenoise producers harvest based upon the flavor and aroma of the juice, as well as analysis of °Brix, acid and pH. Producers are generally striving for base wines that are clean, delicate, not varietally assertive, yet not dull or lifeless. A desired cuvée is one with body, substance, and structure. Immature fruit produces wines that are green or grassy in aroma. Overripe fruit can produce a base wine that is excessively varietal or assertive. Often the producer is looking for bouquet in the finished product, not for extensive varietal aroma. This is a stylistic consideration. However, the winemaker should never lose sight of the effect carbon dioxide has on one's perception of wine character. The "sparkle" significantly magnifies the odorous components of the wine. Early harvest in warmer climates helps minimize excessive varietal character, which can be overpowering. Changes in aroma range from low intensity, green-herbaceous characters toward more intense fruit characters. Chardonnay aroma can be described as melon, floral, pear or smokey; Pinot noir as strawberry floral, tobacco, toffee; and Pinot meunier as confectionery. In warm climates, mature fruit aromas/flavors can be noted when the sugar concentrations are low (- 16°Brix). The CIVC bases its picking decisions on sugar: acid ratios with the preferred ratio between 15-20. This means grapes reach optimum maturity at 14.5 - 18°Brix and a titratable acidity of 12-18 g/L (tartaric). At this acidity, the malic acid is 50-65% of the total acid content. The traditional importance of acid may be partly the result of the fact that, in Champagne, sugar addition is legal, but acid addition is not. At bottling, 11.5% alcohol (v/v) is desired. Alcohol helps foam and bubble retention. Also, in warm climates, a sugar: acid ratio of 15-20 may be reached after some mature fruit flavors have developed (Jordan and Shaw, 1985).
    Table 2. Fruit Chemistry of Some California Grapes for MĂ©thode Champenoise*

    Chardonnay Pinot Noir French Columbard Chenin Blanc °Brix 18-19 18-20 17.5-20 17.5-19 Titratable Acid g/L 11.0-14.0 10.0-13.0 12.0-14.0 10.0-11.0 pH 2.9-3.15 2.9-3.15 2.9-3.20 3.1-3.2

    *Average of several viticultural regions.
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    Cuvée Production

    The desirable chemical attributes of the cuvée usually include alcohol (between about 10.5-11.5), high acid, low pH, low flavonoid phenol content, low aldehydes, low metal content, low volatile acidity, and little color (See Tables 3 and 4). Many producers carefully hand-harvest into small containers (30-1000 pound boxes or bins) to avoid berry breakage and then bring the fruit in from the field as quickly as possible. The least possible skin contact is sought, particularly with red varieties used for Blanc de Noirs. Proximity to the processing facility is, therefore, important. This aids in preventing undue extraction of phenolics from berries possibly broken during transport. Oxidation will reduce desirable aroma/flavor and provide excessive phenols which may cause bitterness and reduced aging capacity. Grapes must be harvested as cool as possible to avoid excessive phenolic pickup and loss of fruit quality. This makes long transport of warm, machine-harvested fruit undesirable for méthode champenoise.
    Grapes are weighed and either pressed or crushed and pressed. Crushing and pressing may be satisfactory, provided the contact of the skins with the juice is brief. For premium méthode champenoise, however, the grapes are usually pressed rather than crushed and pressed. Lack of skin contact produces a more elegant, less varietally dominant base wine. Skin contact releases more aroma, but may also extract courser undesirable components. There is, of course, a yield reduction by pressing the fruit rather than crushing and pressing. The economics, the targeted market, and the style desired must be carefully reviewed.

    As Figure 1 indicates, here are three juice zones in the grape berry: the juice of the pulp (Zone 1), the juice of the pulp area around the seeds (Zone 2), and the juice from just beneath the skins (Zone 3). In order to obtain the desirable cuvée chemistry, traditional producers of méthode champenoise press rather than crush and press. The point of rupture is usually opposite the pedicel. The intermediate zone (1), which contains the most fragile cells, is first extracted before the central zone (2) and finally the peripheral zone (3) (Dunsford and Sneyd, 1989). The concentration of tartaric acid is highest in zone 1 and lowest in zone 3, and hence should be extracted initially. Malic acid concentration decreases from the center (zone 2) to the skin, and so is also extracted fairly quickly. By contrast, the concentration of potassium, the dominant cation, is highest in zone 3, which is extracted last. A juice extracted from the first two zones will, therefore, have the highest acidity, lowest potassium, lowest pH and the lowest susceptibility to oxidation which will result in a wine of greater freshness.
    The goal is usually to preserve the integrity of the berry so that the components of the different zones are not mixed. Thus, mechanical harvesters and crushers are not used. Owing to the way in which the sugars and acids are positioned in the grape, the juice flowing out of the berry comes from the juice of the pulp during the early stages of pressing and is usually better suited for méthode champenoise. Conveyors and delivery systems that may break the berries prior to either pressing or crushing and draining tend to extract more phenolics and may be considered undesirable. One California sparkling wine house developed a vacuum system capable of moving 20 tons/hour of whole grapes into the press. This prevents berry breakage and can reduce the phenol level by 100 mg/L G.A.E. or more (Fowler, 1983a, b).
    Table 3. Composition of Eight Successive Fractions From Chardonnay Grapes in a Champagne Press

    No. Amount
    (L) Sugar
    (g/L) Titratable
    acidity (g/L) pH Tartaric
    acid (g/L) Potassium
    acid tartrate (g/L)
    Vin de cuvée 1. 200. 193. 7.9 2.98 6.12 4.71 Premier cuvée 2. 220. 192. 8.5 2.94 7.28 5.75 3. 600. 193. 9.6 2.87 8.10 5.98 Deuxieme cuvée 4. 600. 191. 9.3 2.94 7.77 6.50 Troisieme cuvée 5. 400. 193. 8.2 2.96 6.87 6.78 Premiere taille 6. 400. 192. 6.6 3.12 5.17 6.03 Vin de taille Deuxieme taille 7. 2.70 191. 5.1 3.43 4.10 6.55 Troisieme taille 8. 2.00 183. 4.5 3.69 3.49 8.74

    Source: Francot (1950).
    Table 3 shows the chemistry of various press fractions from a study conducted in Champagne (Francot, 1950). In Champagne, only the first 2,666L (70 gal) extracted from a marc (4,000 kg or a little more than 8,800 lbs) has the right to the appellation. At least several press fractions are taken, fermented and aged separately. Some of the later press fractions may be blended with the primary fractions as a result of economic and/or sensory considerations.
    Table 4. Method of Fractionating a 4,000 kg Lot of Champagne Grapes.

    Fraction Liters Gallons First fraction 200 52 The Cuvée 2,050 529 The 1st Taille 400 103 The 2nd Taille 200 52 Total 2,850 736

    Source: Hardy (1989)
    Table 4 summarizes the volume breakdown of the fractions frequently separated in Champagne. The first fraction contains dust and residues and is frequently oxidized as a result of inadvertent bruising during harvest. The cuvée portion is the best for sparkling wine production, being the least fruity, highest in acidity, and sweetest while not being oxidized. Fast pressing risks higher extraction of polyphenols. Juices extracted slowly at low pressure to give low solids are therefore less vulnerable to oxidation. The integrity of the pressing can be measured by comparing the differences in titratable acidity (TA) between the fractions (Dunsford and Sneyd, 1989).
    TA (Cuvée - 1st taille)
    = TA (1st - 2nd taille)
    == 1.5 g/L tartaric acid
    Table 5. California Pinot Noir Press Fractions*

    Fractions Total Phenols (mg/L)
    GAE T.A. g/L Ph Adsorption
    520nm Yield
    1 200 13.0 2.80-3.10 0.25 110 2 250 11.0 3.10-3.25 0.62 20 3 320 9.5 3.30-3.45 1.10 7

    *Data averaged from several sources.
    Table 5 gives press data for a California Pinot noir. Segregation of press fractions is frequently based upon taste, which is affected by the significant drop in acidity with continued pressing following approximately 110 gallons per ton. Each press fraction differs in acid, pH, and phenolic and aroma/flavor components. In years of Botrytis degradation of greater than 15% of the berries, a first press fraction of about 10 gallons per ton is also separated. Crusher-stemmers mix the juice fractions and can result in < or = to 100 mg/L more phenolics than pressing whole grapes.
    The trend in the sparkling wine industry is to employ tank presses, champagne ram presses, and traditional basket presses. The champagne basket press of cocquard is still used by some houses in Europe. This unit is unique in that it has a very shallow maie or press basket, rarely over two feet deep, with a diameter of 10 feet. The shallowness of the base relative to its width allows for grapes to be spread out in a fairly thin layer which reduces skin contact with the juice as it flows through the pressed mass of grapes. Thus, less press pressure is required.
    The level of total phenols and the types of phenols present are a function of the design of press and press pressures among other factors. White wines with a total phenol count of 200 mg/L G.A.E. can expect to have approximately the following constituents: 100 mg/L nonflavonoid caffeoyl tartrate and related cinnamates; 30 mg/L nonflavonoid tyrosol and small molecular weight derivatives; 50 mg/L flavoinoids - especially catechins (flavor 3 diols)-and flavon polymers (tannins); and 15 mg/L SO2 and other interferences (Singleton, 1985). The nonflavonoid fraction is relatively constant in the initial pressing of white and red grapes because these compounds are present mainly in the easily extracted juice. The nonflavonoid fraction of cuvées not exposed to wood cooperage totals about the same as that in the juice. There is, however, considerable modification of phenols, and some may be lost or gained with aging (Singleton et al., 1980). Most nonflavonoid phenols are individually present below their sensory threshold, but their additive effects are believed to contribute to bitterness and spiciness.
    Flavonoids such as catechins are extracted from the skins with increased press pressure and may vary with the type of press employed. Catechins account for most of the flavor in white wines with limited skin contact. Vin de cuvées (first press cuts) produced by low press pressures and thin layer presses can be low in total phenols, and particularly in flavonoid phenols, resulting in low extracts. This is an important production consideration. In Bruts especially, finesse must be in balance with the liveliness and the body of the wine. An extract of approximately 25 g/L gives body without heaviness (Schopfer, 1981). Moderate pressures or combining portions of later press fractions are methods of stylistic input that can affect such things as the tactile base of the aroma/flavor character of the cuvée. Most producers are looking for delicate aroma/flavors, which are associated with the initial juice extracted. Thus, a low volume gives a base wine that is low in extract and may, therefore, be elegant but lack depth.
    No separation of the stems need occur before pressing. The stems insure efficient and improved draining and pressing of the whole grapes at lower pressures. Ultimately, this aids in obtaining a higher quality, more delicate first-cut press juice. Francot (1950) found that the Williams press produced juice with composition similar to the traditional basket press. Unlike the basket press, newer tank presses are pneumatic, give complete control, higher yields, produce less nonsoluble solids, low phenols, and require much lower press pressures (Downs, 1983). Low pressure minimizes the chance of macerating the stems and releasing bitter compounds into the juice. Gentle pressing of cool fruit extracts fewer flavonoid phenols. These compounds are responsible for astringency, bitterness and color. The juice near the skins and seeds, released by heavier press pressures, has more intense aroma/flavors and more flavonoid phenols. A tank press can press to dryness at two atmospheres or less and take press cuts. The rules of thumb in Champagne for pressure maxima during pressing are:
    the cuvée extraction at < 1 bar;
    the first taille (1°T) at < 1.2 bar;
    and the final fraction (2°T) at < 1.4 bar
    Many ram-type presses require higher pressures to reach dryness. Filling the press with whole clusters reduces the press load. For example, a Bucher 100 RPM tank press that is rated for a charge of 20 tons will hold about 12 tons of whole clusters.
    Pressing Chardonnay and Pinot noir may produce an average yield of 140 and 120 gallons per ton, respectively. The Chardonnay grape contains slightly more pulp than the Pinot noir. As stated, press fractions are often segregated by taste by monitoring the reduction in juice acidity. For Chardonnay and Pinot noir, a dramatic drop in acidity occurs between the extraction of 110-120 gallons/ton.
    For red varieties such as Pinot noir and Pinot meunier, care is often taken to avoid excessive color extraction. Excess color will affect the sparkling wine character, degree of foaming, and rate of secondary fermentation (Schanderl, 1943). Color extraction is minimized by pressing cool fruit and segregating pressing fractions. The ability to increase the extraction of colored vs. noncolored phenols may be an advantage in producing sparkling rosés. In the production of rosé by cuvasion it is essential that color extraction occur without extraction of excess astringent phenols. The use of cold soak with or without pectinolytic enzymes helps to attain this goal (Zoecklein et al., 1995). The other method of producing a sparkling rosé is by rougissament, or blending. Subsequent color modifications may occur in the dosage stage to produce a sparkling rosé which is said to "reflect the color of rubies."
    The Premier taille (Table 3) is fruitier, less fresh and less elegant than the Vin de cuvée. The later press fractions possess the following attributes: high pH, excess color, high total phenolic content, often excessive varietal character, harshness, higher nonsoluble solids, and a lesser quality aroma. The harshness, color, and nonsoluble solids of later press fractions can be reduced by fining with protein agents, occasionally in conjunction with bentonite and kieselsol. All or portions of the second press fractions may be blended with the primary fraction due to sensory and economic necessity. The third fraction is seldom employed in premium méthode champenoise production. For a review of m»thode champenoise grape handling, see Hardy (1989) and Dunsford and Sneyd (1989).
    Juice Treatments

    Sulfur dioxide is added to the juice expelled from the press but never directly into the press in order to avoid extraction of phenols. Although it is considered desirable to use SO2 to help control oxidation, there is no industry consensus regarding optimum amounts. In the United States, 30 mg/L is added to the first cut press fraction, though such a decision must be based upon the freedom from rot, juice chemistry, temperature and malolactic fermentation desires.
    Phenols are oxidized in the absence of sulfur dioxide and, therefore, some pass from the colorless to the colored or brown form. This results in some juice browning. Less soluble or insoluble phenols precipitate and may be removed during fermentation due to the absorbent capacity of yeast. Muller-Spath (1981) originally suggested the desirability of low sulfur dioxide additions (20-25 mg/L) to the juice under the right microbiological and temperature conditions to encourage some oxidation. Singleton et al. (1980) showed that oxygenation of must for white table wine production increases resistance to further browning but results in less fruity wines. The use of sulfur dioxide in base wine production may be important to minimize oxidative loss of aroma precursors needed for bottle aging (Hardy, 1989).
    The press juice fractions are often cold-settled (debourbage) or centrifuged to reach a nonsoluble solids level of between 1/2-2 1/2% prior to fermentation. The primary press fraction from a thin layer press, such as a Bucher, may already be sufficiently low in nonsoluble solids. Grape solids are removed to minimize extraction of phenols that may occur during fermentation. This is frequently accomplished with the aid of pectinolytic enzymes. Bentonite is usually not used in the primary juice fractions (Munksgard, 1998). There is a significant reduction of yeast levels from centrifuged juice (95%) vs. cold settled juice (50-60%) (Linton, 1985). The ability to rapidly settle is the result of the low pH in the primary press fractions. Some producers use prefermentation juice fining to aid settling and to modify the palate structure of the base wine (Zoecklein et al., 1995). The 1st taille often receives 60-70 mg/L SO2 and 50 g/hL bentonic/casein (Hardy, 1989).
    Primary Fermentation

    The lower the nonsoluble solids content and the cooler the fermentation, the greater the production and retention of fatty acid esters (Williams et al., 1978). These compounds are responsible for the fruity, floral, aromatic nose of wines produced under such conditions. Some producers choose to ferment their cuvées warm (65-70°F) to reduce the floral intensity, thus making a more austere product. Elevated fermentation temperatures are desirable if a malolactic fermentation is sought. Vinification at 55-60°F is not uncommon in this country. Many producers check the nitrogen status (total and NH4 N) of juice prior to fermentation and make adjustments accordingly (Zoecklein et al., 1995). A standard addition of 5-10 g/hL of diammonium phosphate is widely used in Champagne. An addition of 10-25 g/hL of bentonite is made during the primary fermentation of the cuvée by some (see protein stability/bubble size section, pg. 9). Higher additions of up to 150 g/hL of a bentonite/casein mixture is often added to the "tailles" or to the first cuvée fraction when a significant amount (greater than 15% of the berries) of rot is present.
    The yeast employed is occasionally the same for the primary and secondary fermentation. Sparkling wine yeasts are selected for their ability, among other things, to produce esters. Using the same yeasts for both fermentations can result in an end product that is too floral and too high in volatile components. Those yeasts often used for primary fermentation include Montrachet UCD 522, Pasteur Champagne UCD 595, and California Champagne UCD 505, among others. Yeasts infrequently used for primary fermentation include Epernay -2, Steinberg, and French White (Bannister, 1983).
    The primary fermentation is generally conducted in stainless steel. Some European houses use small wooden casks and barrels to ferment all or part of the cuvée. Those who suggest that greater finesse and elegance results from wood are countered by the majority who fear the wine will pick up excess tannin and color. Barrel fermentation results in added structure, often without significant harshness or astringency. Henry Krug ferments their entire vintage slowly at low temperatures in oak vats, believing this to add more bouquet. This is consistent with their desired style, which is full flavored, mature tasting, and complex.
    Reserve Wine

    For product consistency and temperature and biological control, some producers blend a percentage of the previous year's cuvée into the fermenting juice. Reserve wine can also be added during assemblage or blending and may be a component of the dosage. Such practices are based upon production and vintage dating considerations. In the United States, vintage labeling requires that at least 95% of the wine comes from the vintage year.
    Following primary fermentation, the goal of many méthode champenoise producers is to process the cuvée for the secondary fermentation as rapidly as possible. This enables the wine to reach the consumer sooner and also takes advantage of the nutrient-rich young cuvées that support the secondary fermentation. Others counter that there is no need to rush the cuvée into the second fermentation. These winemakers usually prefer to allow their base wines to age and develop, noting that the secondary fermentation is a rejuvenating step.
    Protein and protein-like fining agents can be used to clarify and lower the phenolic content of the base wines. Isinglass and gelatin are the most common agents. Schanderl (1962) recommended the use of polyvinyl-pyvrolid one (PVP) to remove polyphenolic compounds from the base wine. It should be noted that juices are much more forgiving of the harsh action of protein fining agents than are wines. (For a detailed discussion of fining and fining agents see Zoecklein et al., 1995). The total phenol content, as well as the phenol fractions, can be determined by a number of analytical procedures such as HPLC, Folin Ciocalteu and permagnate method. (Zoecklein et al., 1995). Schanderl (1962) recommended a simple pH 7 test for the determination of polyphenol levels in juice and wine (see Zoecklein et al., 1995 for details).
    Potassium Bitartrate Stability

    Most producers stabilize their base wines to prevent bitartrate precipitation which can influence taste (KHT is both salty and bitter) and gas release from sparkling wines. There is wide variation in the exact procedure used by producers to determine KHT stability. A freeze test relies on the formation of crystals as the result of holding wine samples at reduced temperatures for a specified time period. Often a sample is frozen and then thawed to determine the development of bitartrate crystals and whether or not those crystals return to solution. Zoecklein et al. (1995) discussed some of the problems associated with using a freeze test to predict bitartrate stability. Several winemakers use a slight variation of the freeze test. Realizing that the prise de mousse will create anywhere from 1.1 - 1.5% additional alcohol (in mouseux production), they will fortify a small quantity of their cuvée and perform a freeze test on the fortified sample. Alcohol, among other factors, affects KHT precipitation. Fortification may be a desirable change to the freeze test procedure, but the inherent problems of the freeze test still exist even when the sample is fortified. An electrical conductivity test is a much more accurate method of determining bitartrate stability (Zoecklein et al., 1995).
    Protein Stability/Bubble Size, Retention and Foaming

    Carbon dioxide is available in two forms; free gas, and CO2 electrostatically bound to constitutants such as proteins, polysaccharides and lipids (see Figure 2). Makers of sparkling wine must manage their cuvée protein levels to obtain a product with minimum protein precipitation in the bottle while not detrimentally affecting carbonation. Precipitation of protein is affected not only by the exposure temperature, but also by the duration of heating. Since all cuvée proteins may be precipitated by heat, there are varying degrees of heat stability with regard to proteins. For example, heating a sample at 40°C for 24 hours precipitates about 40% of the wine proteins, whereas holding at 60°C for 24 hours precipitates 95-100% of the proteins (Pocock and Rankine, 1973). The time necessary for haze formation decreases with increasing temperature.
    Several winemakers use a heat test and recommend chilling the wine sample following heat treatment. Visible haze formation is slightly greater than that seen in a sample without subsequent cooling. Protein precipitation, like potassium bitartrate precipitation, is affected by alcohol. Winemakers may choose to fortify their cuvée blends by 1.1-1.5% alcohol in the laboratory prior to running a heat test. This is to duplicate the alcohol level which will be achieved in the bottle. Precipitation tests such as the TCA procedure are not uncommon methods for determination of protein stability. The makers of sparkling wines must look beyond stability to the effects proteins have on bubble size, bubble retention and foaming. Indeed, the influence of cuvée proteins, fermentation rate, and yeast autolysis products may be greater than that of such traditional parameters as alcohol on bubble size, retention and foaming. Gauging optimum cuvée protein is a matter of experience. Those using bentonite as a riddling aid may want to not fine with bentonite or purposely underfine the juice or cuvée, knowing that additional protein will be bound in tirage. Little has been published about the influence of tirage fining agents on bubble and mousse. Munkegard (1998) noted the increase in mousse quality with the addition of tirage tannin. This may relate to protein tannin interaction (for additional information on bubble and foam quality, see page 16).
    Because it is rare that a single wine of a single vintage from a single vineyard will be perfectly balanced in composition and flavor for a premium sparkling wine, blending is often performed. Blending is considered by most to be the key to the art of méthode champenoise. The selection of the cuvée components is conducted with three main objectives in view: the production of a sparkling wine of definite consistent flavor and quality; the enhancement of the quality of the individual wines; and the production of a base wine of sufficient quantity. Blending is an important tool that produces a result that is greater than the sum of the parts. The art of blending depends in part on chemical formulae, but also relies heavily on the gift and talent of the blender. The winemakers must blend wines for sparkling wine production when the wines have the better part of their lives yet to come. This requires considerable insight. It is difficult to predict the final results of blends that will be consumed years later.
    The first decision to make is whether the new wines are of sufficient palatability to produce méthode champenoise. The magnifying effect of carbon dioxide on sparkling wines significantly highlights any enological flaws in the product, so wines for cuvée selection should be tasted at room temperature and on several occasions.
    The decision of whether the cuvée is to be non-vintage or vintage dated is an important one. Non-vintage products rely on product consistency and usually require vin de reserve (cuvée blending from previous years). Generally, at least one eighth of the new wine is put into reserve for this purpose in Champagne. Reserve wine is either stored in magnums (as is the case with Bollenger) or in bulk, sometimes under a gas environment.
    Some makers prepare cuvée blends prior to stabilization. When wines of different ages, grapes, and origins first meet, bitartrate and protein precipitation can occur. Cellar treatments such as fining and filtration can remove colloidal protectors, and thus affect potassium bitartrate stability. Due to the character of the wine, many prefer to make cuvée blending decisions following stabilization. It is essential that protein and bitartrate stability be evaluated just prior to cuvée bottling.
    Technology dictates that producers rely on the chemical composition of the cuvée, as well as its taste, for the blending determinations that aid in production consistency. For example, wines with high alcohol, low pH and/or low level of assimilatable nitrogen cuvées may have difficulty completing the secondary fermentation, while low alcohol cuvées produce sparkling wines with poor bubble retention (Amerine and Joslyn, 1970). Many producers add a source of nitrogen such as DAP (24 g/HL) prior to tirage.
    The primary requisites for a cuvée are a high titratable acidity (7.0 g/L or more expressed as tartaric), low pH (less than 3.3), low volatile acidity (less than 0.60 g/L), and moderate alcohol level (between 10.0 and 11.5% v/v). The cuvée should be light in color, with a balanced, fresh aroma. Many are looking for base wines with no single varietal character dominating, but with body, structure, substance, and length. Wines with a low acetaldehyde (< 75 mg/L), low copper (< 0.2 mg/L), and low iron (< 5 mg/L) content are sought. Additionally, wines with a relatively low phenolic content are often desired. An extract of 25 g/L adds body without making the wine heavy.
    The concentration of aldehydes is a gauge by which general sparkling wine quality can be measured. Aldehyde concentration is primarily a function of the extent of oxidation but also of the quantity of SO2 added during primary and secondary fermentation. Concentrations of acetaldehyde greater than about 75 mg/L may add an overripe, bruised apple aroma (Zoecklein et al., 1995).
    Another important blending consideration is the amount of second-cut press material to employ. This affects the phenolic content and is both a production and economic question. The goal is often to produce a cuvée that is delicate and 'clean' and has structure to provide the framework for bottle bouquet. For 'Vintage' years and Petillants, the alcohol level of the wine is usually somewhat higher (11-11.5% (v/v). Cuvée alcohols greater than about 12.6% can lead to sticking of the secondary fermentation. The base wine should be low in free sulfur dioxide content (< 20 mg/L) to ensure the ability to referment. Additionally, both the total and free sulfur dioxide content must be kept low if a malolactic fermentation is desired.
    Chardonnay alone can be highly perfumey and somewhat candy-like, with intense richness. Excessive varietal character is often reached in California. This is not a problem in the eastern U.S., which may make Chardonnay production for sparkling wine quite suitable for the region. Pinot noir often produces a light, earthy, strawberry aroma. Our European colleagues use the analogy: the Pinot noir is the frame; the Chardonnay, the picture; and the Pinot meunier, the dressing for their Champagnes. Pinot noir, Pinot blanc, and Pinot meunier age more quickly than Chardonnay. Some generalizations regarding palate profiles can be made of young wines produced in Champagne. Chardonnay is detected at first with its intensity and perfume. This is followed by Pinot meunier with broad mid-palate flavors, and finishes with Pinot noir which adds length and intensity. Both Pinot noir and Chardonnay take more time to develop than Pinot meunier. Often meunier is utilized to a greater degree if wines are aged 1 year or less sur lie. With increasing tirage age, Pinot noir will increasingly dominate the nose and palate. The lack of knowledge as to which cultivars to use and which blends will age needs particular attention.
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