Sparkling

  1. Sparkling-Wine-Flight-BCGWJ-Jan-2019.docx
  2. Sparkling Wines_Notes for 2018 AGM
  3. CHAMPAGNE and SPARKLING WINES

Presented by Mary Homer 
to the BC Guild of Wine Judges

June 14, 2009

The following pages of notes, which explain something of the history and methods of processing sparkling wines, were originally prepared and presented at the 2004 Maintenance Session at the BC Guild of Wine Judges Annual General Meeting in North Vancouver and again in support of the 2006 Maintenance Session at the BC Guild of Wine Judges Annual General Meeting. The original author remains anonymous.

I have copied and carefully edited them for your information and wish to acknowledge and thank whoever originally wrote them.

After reading these notes you should know: 
- what are the three varieties of grapes used in Champagne?

– For what period of time must a non-vintage champagne age? – For what period of time must a vintage champagne age? 
- What are cremants de Bourgogne? 
– What is cuvee?

– What is Liqueur de Tirage? 
– What is remuage? 
– What is degorgement? 
- What is the Charmat Method? 
– What red grape does Australia use for making sparkling wine? – What is another French term for “méthode champenoise”?

Give yourself bonus points if you know the answers to these questions: – What is sparkling wine called in Spain? 
- What is sparkling wine called in Italy? 
- What is sparkling wine called in Germany?

Definition provided by the BC Amateur Winemakers Association Competition Handbook:

Class H. Sparkling

There are sparkling wines made that are appropriate for all occasions. They can be drunk alone, or with virtually any food. Wines sparkled by the Champagne method have an unmistakable yeasty flavour which adds to their complexity. Those that have been carbonated tend to exhibit fruitier characteristics. Sediment is unacceptable.

Technical Characteristics

Ingredients: No restrictions.

Alcohol: 9% – 12%

Colour: No restrictions. Sugar: 0% – 6%

Sugar: 0% – 6%

Specific Gravity: 0.992 to 1.016

Acid: 9 – 12 g/L
pH: 2.8 – 3.4

All entries in this class will be considered for the AWC National Competition as AWC Class H, Sparkling.

About Champagne

Champagne is both a region and a winemaking process. Without a doubt, this region produces the world’s most well known sparkling wines

The Champagne Region

Centered around the City of Rheims and the Town of Epernay, it is France’s most northern appellation with over 75,000 acres of vineyards in production. The climate here provides the acid backbone of the wines, reflecting the short growing season. The chalky geology and soils of the area regulate the water to the vines, retain and reflect the sun’s rays and provide a natural material in which to build extensive champagne cellars. These conditions create the specific terroir for the classic champagnes.

The Champagne area located in northeast France, with its three Champagne towns [Rheims, Epernay and Ay] was the first region to make sparkling wine in any quantity and historically the name champagne became synonymous with the finest, although Champagne is now responsible for less than one bottle in 12 of total world production of all sparkling wine. The Champagne region of France possesses just 3% of France’s total vineyard acreage.

Notably Burgundy and Bordeaux champagne formed the model for other aspiring winemakers, especially in Australia and the west coast of the United States, employing the same grapes and same sparkling winemaking method. This form of imitation, while flattering, became decidedly awkward for the Champenois in the late 1980s. Their response was to tighten up the regulations regarding their own wines. Only sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France may be marketed as “champagne”.

It has been said that the best French sparkling wines come from cool-climate area such as Burgundy, where they are known as cremants de Bourgogne. Many other countries make sparkling wines, such as Canada [Sparkling Wines], Italy {Spumante], Germany [Sekt], and Spain [Cava], to name only a few.

The History and Method

Bottled wines often become effervescent, especially in the spring when the weather grows warmer. The warmer temperatures re-awaken yeast cells that have been bottled with the wine and kept dormant by the cooler winter weather. In the past, this unexpected re-fermentation often resulted in exploding bottles. Because the bubbly nature of these wines was pleasing to many people, some means of controlling the secondary fermentation in the bottle was necessary. Dom Perignon, a blind French Benedictine monk, is credited with discovering a method of control.

During the 17th century, in his role as cellar-master, Dom Perignon noticed that many of his still wines began to re-ferment in the spring with the inevitable bursting of bottles. Through much trial and error, he discovered a solution to this problem. He learned that allowing the wine to completely finish its fermentation in the vat and then adding a small dose of sugar syrup and yeast to the bottled wine could control the amount of carbon dioxide in the bottle. To prevent the stopper from being ejected from the bottle as a result of increasing pressure, he used string or wire to tie the cork to the neck of the bottle. But one problem remained: how to remove the dead yeast cells from each bottle without losing the wine or its effervescence.

During the early 1800’s, Madame Cliquot, the founder of the Champagne company known as Veuve Cliquot (Widow Cliquot), developed a system for removing this debris. Her clearing process involved two very delicate and time-consuming steps known as remuage and degorgement.

Remuage involves the use of a specially built bottle rack known as a pupitre. To begin the process of remuage, the bottles are placed neck-first in a horizontal position in the pupitres (aka riddling rack). Each day the bottles are given a slight circular and upward twist to shake the sediment into the neck of the bottle. Eventually the bottle is completely upside-down in the rack with the sediment lying on the cork. This sediment must now be removed without losing any wine or effervescence.

The disgorgement procedure begins by carefully removing the upside-down bottles from the pupitres. The neck of each bottle is dipped into a freezing brine solution until a small ice pellet has formed trapping the sediment. The cork is then removed. The pressure inside the bottle then ejects the ice pellet and the trapped sediment. A small dosage of sugar syrup is added to adjust the wine’s sweetness and then a new cork is inserted into the bottle and tightly wired down.

Traditionally, both remuage and disgorgement have been manual procedures. But with the advent of modern technology, remuage has been partially mechanized and disgorgement has been fully mechanized.

Grape Varietals

Three varieties of grapes are planted in the Champagne area: the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the white Chardonnay. Most white Champagne cuvees are made from a blend of the still wines of all three of these grape varieties. When only red grapes are used they are called Blanc de Noir. When only Chardonnay is used it is known as Blanc de Blanc. Champagnes, however, are more recognized by their House style. There is also available a rosé champagne.

Rosé is typically more expensive than white champagne because it’s making is more labor-intensive and time consuming. The most common method in Champagne is to blend non-sparkling red wine into the champagne. The other approach is more difficult because it involves carefully limiting contact between the red skin and the juice to create a coveted pale salmon colour known as oeil-de perdrix (“partridge eyes”). Wine made this way has a more delicate flavour, whereas rosé made by blending in red wine has deeper, more robust red fruit aromas. The main challenge with either approach is to create the same color year after year even though the blend of grapes changes.

The cremants de Bourgogne, however, utilize different grapes than in the Champagne region. The Burgundy sparklers utilize the traditional Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes as well as Gamay and Aligoté.

Other countries have been known to use the triad of grape varieties known from the Champagne region as well as grapes native to their own country. For example, in making spumante, Italy utilizes the Moscato Bianco, Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes. Prosecco grapes are utilized in making a lighter fizzante. In making cava, Spain uses the triad of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-Lo grapes. About 90% of German sekt is based on Italian, French or other non-German still wine. In the other 10% of sekts, the acidity and finesse of the Riesling grape has been put to use.

Some regions in Australia (Tasmania, Yarra Valley, and Pipers River) have begun producing unique red sparkling wines made from Shiraz grapes. The sparkling of still red wine has now become popular with other wine-producing countries. For example, Italy produces a number of red sparkling wines using Brachetto, Merlot, Cabernet and Refosco grapes.

Many of the thirty or more larger Champagne Houses that dominate the market make their cuvees with distinctive characteristics, which are consistent from year to year and represent the House style. These cuvees (blends) represent 90% of Champagne production and are made from a blend of as many as 40 still wines from many vintages. In exceptional years a Champagne House may make a “vintage champagne” using only grapes grown in that one year. These more expensive “vintage champagnes” may or may not be better than the house cuvees.

Champagne Production

The production of champagne is complex and very labour intensive. A bottle may be handled up to 200 times before it leaves the cellar. Time brings subtleties to the champagne and the finer champagnes may spend six or more years developing in the bottle.

A small percentage of the vineyards are owned by the champagne companies so both large and small houses must buy grapes from independent growers. Once acquired, both the red and white grapes are immediately pressed allowing the juice to run off without extracting color from the skins. Four pressings are done but only the first, and sometimes the second, go into the making of the better wines. The juices are then fermented as separate still varietal wines. A few Champagne Houses still do some barrel fermentation.

Eventually expert tasters blend the finished still wines to attain the desired house-style. This process is both a science and an art. Some non-vintage blends may contain as many as 40 individual wines. Once the blending is completed the wines are bottled, the sweet Liqueur de Tirage is added and the bottles are crown capped. The secondary fermentation inside the bottle then commences and continues for two or three months.

The sparkled wines are then left in contact with the dead yeast cells for a period determined by the producer. This time on the yeast, known as sur lie, is responsible for developing much of the complexity, and the toasty, bread-doughy aromas and flavours so prized in the best champagnes. The wines can be left on the yeast cells anywhere from nine months to ten years. The legal requirement for non-vintage wines is that they mature for a minimum of 15 months after the completion of bottle-fermentation. Vintage champagnes must age for a minimum of three years.

Once put through remuage and disgorgement, the liqueur de expedition is added to each bottle to sweeten and replace the wine lost in the disgorgement. The wine may be further aged afterwards but it is generally released.

Non-vintage (NV) wines will often be a blend of all 3 permitted grapes unless otherwise stated. These wines are made for immediate consumption, though many will benefit from further aging.

Vintage wines are made from a single harvest and from the best grapes. Not every year is declared a vintage year and vintage Champagne is only made if conditions are good enough. These wines are usually considered more complex than NV Champagnes and are capable of further development if cellared.

to the marketplace. This complex process of sparkling wine is known as the Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. Many winemakers throughout the world now use this method for producing their sparkling wines.

Other Sparkling Wines

The Charmat Method [also known as “the tank method”, “the autoclave method” and the “methode cuvee close”] is a relatively inexpensive way of making sparkling wines. An added advantage is that this method is very easy to control. Eugene Charmat, a French chemist, developed this method around the turn of the century. In this process, a still wine is put into a large vat with a closed pressure system. A measured amount of sugar and yeast is added to induce a second fermentation. After this fermentation is complete, the wine (now charged with dissolved CO2) is filtered and bottled while being constantly maintained in a pressurized system. Although this method is faster and less expensive than the Methode Champenoise, the bubbles escaping from the Charmat Method produced wine are somewhat larger and are released from the wine much more rapidly.

The Asti Method is often considered a variation of the tank method, but is difficult in that it does not involve the original production of a still dry wine. In the Asti Method, the sweet juice from pressed grapes is fermented to above 6% alcohol per volume and is then chilled and filtered to stop the fermentation. At this stage the partially fermented must is still, not sparkling. Sugar and selected yeasts are then added and the must is put into sealed tanks to continue its fermentation. When the required alcohol degree is achieved, the wine is chilled, membrane-filtered to remove the live yeasts, and bottled under pressure. This leaves a sparkling wine quite low in alcohol, typically only 7% to 7.5%, but with high residual sugar content.

Most amateur winemakers rely on mechanically injecting carbon dioxide into the wine rather than allowing bubbles to form naturally in the bottle during fermentation. This method also produces somewhat larger bubbles, which the French consider ugly and unrefined, referring to them as les yeux de crapaud (“toad’s eyes”). In Champagne, mechanically injecting carbon dioxide is illegal. The opposite myth is that tiny bubbles mean better champagne; it’s more delicate and refined. The truth is that older champagne has smaller bubbles just because it’s lost some of its carbon dioxide over time. It only tastes better because its aromas have matured.

Judges and Trainees when given the responsibility of evaluating Sparkling Wines should keep the following points in mind:

  1. There are sparkling wines made that are appropriate for all occasions. They can be drunk without food or with any course from hors d’oeuvres through dessert, including after-dinner cheese or nuts.
  2. They can come in any of the non-fortified wine colours from pale green, clear, straw, gold, rose, and 
orange to all shades of red (but not brown). Ask yourself if the appearance is limpid, sparkling or silky?
  3. All sparkling wines should be brilliantly clear: haziness and sediments are unacceptable.
  4. The bubbles should be numerous, fine and continuously rising from the bottom of the flute for at least an 
 * The bubbles should not froth or form a head in the glass. In the mouth, bubbles should form a tingling, effervescent, fine mousse when passed through the teeth. This test is valuable to evaluate the initial sparkle and the sparkle retention, some fifteen or twenty minutes later. Accordingly, sweetness levels will vary. However, the sugar levels should never be cloying. The appropriate amount of acidity applies in sparkling wines as it does with still wines. The wines should finish clean in your mouth.

What are the bubbles like? Are they light, fine, lively, plentiful, slow or coarse? When looking straight down into your champagne flute, do the bubbles form a pearl necklace? Is it discreet or intense? It is interesting to observe these different characteristics in sparkling wines.

*Judging the Sparkle of a Wine

 

 

 

Robin McNeil, twice National Champion Winemaker, has recently pointed out to the BC Guild of Wine Judges that perhaps there is a problem in the way in which sparkle retention is being judged – – by simply looking at a glass that has been sitting for a period of time. As we know, wine sparkle can be retained in a glass due to irritants (i.e. dust or imperfect glass surface). There can often be a marked difference between two glasses of the same wine due to “irritant” factors in one of the two glasses. If the glass is clean and without irritants there should be very little sign of any activity if the wine has good sparkle retention. If the wine has poor retention it will be fizzing (i.e. not retaining its sparkle) and will very shortly fall flat. Robin McNeal suggests that judges be instructed to use some positive tests as to whether there is sparkle retention by: 
- re-tasting the wine and using mouth feel to determine whether the wine is still lively; and/or

  • –  pour the remaining wine into a different glass to see if there is still “fizz”, and/or
  • –  try dropping an “irritant” (grain of sugar, sand, or salt) into the glass which should produce a steady 
stream of bubbles.
 

Adding carbon dioxide to a still wine with high acid is what gives sparkling wine its crisp refreshing quality. The sparkling wines of Champagne, in France’s most northerly grape growing area, was the solution to improving and making drinkable the naturally over-acidic still wines of the region.

  1. Yeasty aromas and bready flavours are respected qualities of classic champagnes. These qualities are indicative of wines that have been processed by the Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. These qualities result from wine maturing on “the lees” (aka “dead yeast cells”).
  2. Other aromas and flavours should be pleasing and inviting: Off aromas and off flavours are not appropriate. So briefly, for judging in amateur wine competitions, ask yourself the following questions:
  • a) Is this wine CLEAN or is it OFF?
  • b) If it is CLEAN, is it also COMPLEX?
  • c) Are the bubbles SUFFICIENT initially and do they last an APPROPRIATE length of time?

Other aromas founding sparkling wine made in the Methode Traditionelle may include butter, dough, toast, vegemite, nuts, oysters, and other savoury aromas.

  1. Fruity or floral aromas would be evident of a sparkling wine made from the Charmat method or by injection of carbon dioxide. These aromas can range from citrus fruits, red fruits (berries, cherries, etc.), hard fruits (apples, pears, etc.), soft fruits (peaches, nectarines, apricots), exotic fruits (mango, banana, coconut, lychee, to wild roses, lime blossoms, orange blossoms, and violets).
SOME INFORMATION ABOUT THE LABEL:

 

 

 

You will need to read the label to determine if you are purchasing the level of sweetness (or dryness) that appeals to you. This is very subjective – – one person’s sweet may be another’s dry. The following, with the limits of the residual sugar in grams per litre when the dosage has been added, is a guide:

 
Ultra brut: very dry [no dosage at all]
Brut: very dry [0 – 15g] ………………… very dry and savory, usually best quality and good with food Extra sec: dry [12-20 g] ……………….. interestingly a little more sweet than brut (just off-dry)
Sec: slightly sweet [17 – 35g]…………. medium-dry – – good for parties or champagne breakfasts Demi-sec: sweet [33 – 50g] …………… appeals to a sweeter palate
 Doux: very sweet [more than 50 g] …… very sweet, dessert-style champagneA tip to keep in mind when reading the label of a champagne bottle: 
At the bottom edge of every Champagne label two tiny letters appear preceding a six-digit license number. Two of these abbreviations, “NM” and “RM” are good clues as to what is inside those seductive-looking bottles.Almost all mass-market Champagnes are NM wines, negociant-manipulants. These are the large companies that buy grapes in addition to their vineyard holdings, then blend and produce very large quantities of Champagne. The quality of NM wines runs the gamut from okay to superb.RM means recoltant-manipulant, a small grower and producer who makes, bottles, and sells Champagne, usually from grapes grown in his own vineyard. Many RMs own vineyards designated Grand Cru – the best quality. This is the Champagne equivalent of estate bottled. Most RMs are attractively priced and are really worth seeking out since the quality is usually good to superb.

 

In summary . . .

The Champenoise Methode is still the preferred technique used in the manufacture of fine sparkling wines, even though it is more expensive and time consuming than other methods. The bubbles of escaping carbon dioxide are smaller and the effervescence lasts for a much longer time than wines produced by other methods.

 

  “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars”

 

 

 

Dom Perignon (when he first tasted sparkling wine)

 
“There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is a glass of champagne.” Bette Davis (in Old Acquaintance)

 

 

 

“I never drink champagne, except when I am thirsty, or depressed, or joyous, or want

to celebrate another day of life or want to relax.” Madame Bollinger

 

 

B.C. Guild of Wine Judges

Maintenance Session, May 2006 Class H. Sparkling Wines.

Judges and Trainees when given the responsibility of evaluating Sparkling Wines should keep the following points in mind:

The following three pages of notes, which explain something of the history and methods of processing sparkling wines, were prepared, I believe, for the 2004 AGM, in North Vancouver. I have just copied them for your information and wish to acknowledge and thank whoever wrote them.

1

B.C. Guild of Wine Judges

About Champagne.

Without a doubt, this region produces the world’s finest sparkling wines. Champagne is both a region and a winemaking process.

Climate and Growing Conditions

Centred around the city of Reims and the town of Epernay, it is France’s most northern appellation with over 75,000 acres of vineyards in production. The climate here provides the acid backbone of the wines, reflecting the short growing season. The chalky geology and soils of the area regulate the water to the vines, retain and reflect the sun’s rays and provide a natural material in which to build extensive champagne cellars. These conditions create the specific terroir for the classic champagnes.

Grape Varietals

Three varieties of grapes are planted: the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the white Chardonnay. Most white Champagne cuvees are made from a blend of the still wines of all three of these grape varieties. When only red grapes are used they are called Blanc de Noir. When only Chardonnay is used it is known as Blanc de Blanc. Champagnes, however, are more recognized by their House style. Many of the thirty or more larger Champagne Houses that dominate the market make their Cuvees with distinctive characteristics, which are consistent from year to year and represent the House style. These cuvees (blends) represent 90% of Champagne production and are made from a blend of as many as 40 still wines from many vintages. In exceptional years a Champagne House may make Vintage Champagne using only grapes grown in that one year. These more expensive Vintage Champagnes may or may not be better than the house cuvees.

Champagne Production

The production of Champagne is complex and very labour intensive. A bottle may be handled up to 200 times before it leaves the cellar. Time brings subtleties to Champagne and the finer champagnes may spend six or more years developing in the bottle
.

A small percentage of the vineyards are owned by the champagne companies so both large and small houses must buy grapes from independent growers. Once acquired, both the red and white grapes are immediately pressed allowing the juice to run off without extracting color from the skins. Four pressings are done but only the first, and sometimes the second, go into the making of the better wines. The juices are then fermented as separate still varietal wines. A few Champagne Houses still do some barrel fermentation.

Eventually the finished still wines are blended by expert tasters to attain the desired house style. This process is both a science and an art. Some non-vintage blends may contain as many as 40 individual wines.

Once the blending is completed the wines are bottled, the sweet Liqueur de Tirage is added and the bottles are crown capped. The secondary fermentation inside the bottle then commences and continues for two or three months. The sparkled wines are then left in contact with the dead yeast cells for a period determined by the producer. This time on the yeast, known as “ sur lie” is responsible for developing much of the complexity, and the toasty, bread-doughy aromas and flavours so prized in the best Champagnes. The wines can be left on the yeast cells anywhere from nine months to ten years. The legal requirements for non-vintage wines are that they mature for a minimum of 15 months after the completion of bottle-fermentation. Vintage Champagnes must age for a minimum of three years.

Once put through remuage and degorgement, the liqueur de expedition is added to each bottle to sweeten and replace the wine lost in the degorgement. The wine may be further aged afterwards but it is generally released to the marketplace. This complex process of sparkling wine is known as the Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. Many winemakers throughout the world now use this method for producing their sparkling wines.

Other Sparkling Wines

The Charmat Method, also known as the tank method, the autoclave method and the methode cuvée close, is a relatively inexpensive way of making sparkling wines. An added advantage is that this method is very easy to control. Eugene Charmat, a French chemist, developed this method around the turn of the century. In this process, a still wine is put into a large vat with a closed pressure system. A measured amount of sugar and yeast is added to induce a second fermentation. After this fermentation is complete, the wine (now charged with dissolved CO2) is filtered and bottled while being constantly maintained in a pressurized system. Although this method is faster and less expensive than the Methode Champenoise, the bubbles escaping from the Charmat-produced wine are somewhat larger and are released from the wine much more rapidly.

History and Method

Bottled wines often become effervescent, especially in the spring when the weather grows warmer. These warmer temperatures probably re-awaken yeast cells that have been bottled with the wine but kept dormant by the cooler weather of winter. In the past, this unexpected re-fermentation often resulted in exploding bottles. Because the bubbly nature of these wines was pleasing to many people, some means of controlling the secondary fermentation in the bottle was necessary.

Dom Perignon, a blind French Benedictine monk, is credited with discovering a method of control. During the 17th century, in his role as cellar-master, Dom Perignon noticed that many of his still wines began to re-ferment in the spring with the inevitable bursting of bottles. Through much trial and error, he discovered a solution to this problem. He learned that allowing the wine to completely finish its fermentation in the vat and then adding a small dose of sugar syrup and yeast to the bottled wine could control the amount of carbon dioxide in the bottle. To prevent the stopper from being ejected from the bottle as a result of increasing pressure, he used string or wire to tie the cork to the neck of the bottle. But one problem remained: how to remove the dead yeast cells from each bottle without losing the wine or its effervescence.

During the early 1800’s, Madame Cliquot, the founder of the Champagne company known as Veuve Cliquot (Widow Cliquot), developed a system for removing this debris.

3

B.C. Guild of Wine Judges

Her clearing process involved two very delicate and time-consuming steps known as remuage and degorgement. Remuage involves the use of a specially built bottle rack known as a pupitre. To begin the process of remuage, the bottles are placed neck-first in a horizontal position in the pupitres. Each day the bottles are given a slight circular and upward twist to shake the sediment into the neck of the bottle. Eventually the bottle is completely upside-down in the rack with the sediment lying on the cork. This sediment must now be removed without losing any wine or effervescence.

The degorgement procedure begins by carefully removing the upside-down bottles from the pupitres. The neck of each bottle is dipped into a freezing brine solution until a small ice pellet has formed trapping the sediment. The cork is then removed. The pressure inside the bottle then ejects the ice pellet and the trapped sediment. A small dosage of sugar syrup is added to adjust the wine’s sweetness and then a new cork is inserted into the bottle and tightly wired down.

Traditionally, both remuage and degorgement have been manual procedures. But with the advent of modern technology, remuage has been partially mechanized and degorgement has been fully mechanized.

Although more expensive and time consuming than other methods, the Champenoise Methode is still the preferred technique used in the manufacture of fine sparkling wines. The bubbles of escaping carbon dioxide are smaller and the effervescence lasts for a much longer time than wines produced by other methods.

4

 

 

 

 

 

Class H. Sparkling Wines.

Judges and Trainees when given the responsibility of evaluating Sparkling Wines should keep the following points in mind:

  • There are sparkling wines made that are appropriate for all occasions.
  • They can be drunk without food or with any course from hors d’oeuvres through dessert even to after dinner cheese or nuts.
  • They can come in any of the non-fortified wine colours from pale green, clear, straw, gold, rose and orange to all shades of red (but no brown).
  • All sparkling wines should be brilliantly clear: haziness and sediments are unacceptable.
  • The bubbles should be numerous, fine and continuously rising from the bottom of the flute for at least an hour. The bubbles should not froth or form a head in the glass.
  • In the mouth the bubbles should form a tingling effervescent fine mousse when passed through the teeth. This test is valuable to evaluate the initial sparkle and the sparkle retention some fifteen or twenty minutes later.
  • An above high acid in the still wine is what gives sparkling wine its crisp refreshing quality when carbon dioxide is added. The sparkling of Champagne in France’s most northerly grape growing area was the solution to improving and making drinkable the naturally over-acidic still wines of the region.
  • Yeasty aromas and bready flavours are respected qualities of classic Champagnes. They are an indication of the wine being processed by the Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. These qualities are a result of the wine being matured on the lees (i.e. on dead yeast cells).
  • Other aromas and flavours should be pleasing and inviting: Off aromas and flavours are not appropriate.

So briefly for:

  • There are sparkling wines made that are appropriate for all occasions.
  • They can be drunk without food or with any course from hors d’oeuvres through dessert even to after dinner cheese or nuts.
  • They can come in any of the non-fortified wine colours from pale green, clear, straw, gold, rose and orange to all shades of red (but no brown).
  • All sparkling wines should be brilliantly clear: haziness and sediments are unacceptable.
  • The bubbles should be numerous, fine and continuously rising from the bottom of the flute for at least an hour. The bubbles should not froth or form a head in the glass.
  • In the mouth the bubbles should form a tingling effervescent fine mousse when passed through the teeth. This test is valuable to evaluate the initial sparkle and the sparkle retention some fifteen or twenty minutes later.
  • An above high acid in the still wine is what gives sparkling wine its crisp refreshing quality when carbon dioxide is added. The sparkling of Champagne in France’s most northerly grape growing area was the solution to improving and making drinkable the naturally over-acidic still wines of the region.
  • Yeasty aromas and bready flavours are respected qualities of classic Champagnes. They are an indication of the wine being processed by the Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. These qualities are a result of the wine being matured on the lees (i.e. on dead yeast cells).
  • Other aromas and flavours should be pleasing and inviting: Off aromas and flavours are not appropriate.

Judging in amateur wine competitions ask yourself:

There are sparkling wines made that are appropriate for all occasions.

Judging in amateur wine competitions ask yourself:

  • a) Is this wine CLEAN or is it OFF?
  • b) If it is CLEAN is it also COMPLEX?
  • c) Are the bubbles SUFFICIENT initially and do they last an 
APPROPRIATE length of time?

So briefly for

  • There are sparkling wines made that are appropriate for all occasions.
  • They can be drunk without food or with any course from hors d’oeuvres through dessert even to after dinner cheese or nuts.
  • They can come in any of the non-fortified wine colours from pale green, clear, straw, gold, rose and orange to all shades of red (but no brown).
  • All sparkling wines should be brilliantly clear: haziness and sediments are unacceptable.
  • The bubbles should be numerous, fine and continuously rising from the bottom of the flute for at least an hour. The bubbles should not froth or form a head in the glass.
  • In the mouth the bubbles should form a tingling effervescent fine mousse when passed through the teeth. This test is valuable to evaluate the initial sparkle and the sparkle retention some fifteen or twenty minutes later.
  • An above high acid in the still wine is what gives sparkling wine its crisp refreshing quality when carbon dioxide is added. The sparkling of Champagne in France’s most northerly grape growing area was the solution to improving and making drinkable the naturally over-acidic still wines of the region.
  • Yeasty aromas and bready flavours are respected qualities of classic Champagnes. They are an indication of the wine being processed by the Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. These qualities are a result of the wine being matured on the lees (ie. on dead yeast cells).
  • Other aromas and flavours should be pleasing and inviting: Off aromas and flavours are not appropriate.

Judging in amateur wine competitions ask yourself:

  • a) Is this wine CLEAN or is it OFF?
  • b) If it is CLEAN is it also COMPLEX?
  • c) Are the bubbles SUFFICIENT initially and do they last a 
APPROPRIATE length of time? _______________________________

B.C. Guild of Wine Judges

Maintenance Session, May 2006 Class H. Sparkling Wines.

Judges and Trainees when given the responsibility of evaluating Sparkling Wines should keep the following points in mind:

The following three pages of notes, which explain something of the history and methods of processing sparkling wines, were prepared, I believe, for the 2004 AGM. In North Vancouver. I have just copied them for your information and wish to acknowledge and thank whoever wrote them.

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B.C. Guild of Wine Judges

About Champagne.

Without a doubt, this region produces the world’s finest sparkling wines. Champagne is both a region and a winemaking process.

Climate and Growing Conditions

Centred around the city of Reims and the town of Epernay, it is France’s most northern appellation with over 75,000 acres of vineyards in production. The climate here provides the acid backbone of the wines, reflecting the short growing season. The chalky geology and soils of the area regulate the water to the vines, retain and reflect the sun’s rays and provide a natural material in which to build extensive champagne cellars. These conditions create the specific terroir for the classic champagnes.

Grape Varietals

Three varieties of grapes are planted: the red Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the white Chardonnay. Most white Champagne cuvees are made from a blend of the still wines of all three of these grape varieties. When only red grapes are used they are called Blanc de Noir. When only Chardonnay is used it is known as Blanc de Blanc. Champagnes, however, are more recognized by their House style. Many of the thirty or more larger Champagne Houses that dominate the market make their Cuvees with distinctive characteristics, which are consistent from year to year and represent the House style. These cuvees (blends) represent 90% of Champagne production and are made from a blend of as many as 40 still wines from many vintages. In exceptional years a Champagne House may make a Vintage Champagne using only grapes grown in that one year. These more expensive Vintage Champagnes may or may not be better than the house cuvees.

Champagne Production

The production of Champagne is complex and very labour intensive. A bottle may be handled up to 200 times before it leaves the cellar. Time brings subtleties to Champagne and the finer champagnes may spend six or more years developing in the bottle
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A small percentage of the vineyards are owned by the champagne companies so both large and small houses must buy grapes from independent growers. Once acquired, both the red and white grapes are immediately pressed allowing the juice to run off without extracting color from the skins. Four pressings are done but only the first, and sometimes the second, go into the making of the better wines. The juices are then fermented as separate still varietal wines. A few Champagne Houses still do some barrel fermentation.

Eventually the finished still wines are blended by expert tasters to attain the desired house style. This process is both a science and an art. Some non-vintage blends may contain as many as 40 individual wines.

Once the blending is completed the wines are bottled, the sweet Liqueur de Tirage is added and the bottles are crown capped. The secondary fermentation inside the bottle then commences and continues for two or three months. The sparkled wines are then left in contact with the dead yeast cells for a period determined by the producer. This time on the yeast, known as “ sur lie” is responsible for developing much of the complexity, and the toasty, bread-doughy aromas and flavours so prized in the best Champagnes. The wines can be left on the yeast cells anywhere from nine months to ten years. The legal requirements for non-vintage wines is that they mature for a minimum of 15 months after the completion of bottle-fermentation. Vintage Champagnes must age for a minimum of three years.

 

Once put through remuage and disgorgement, the liqueur de expedition is added to each bottle to sweeten and replace the wine lost in the disgorgement. The wine may be further aged afterwards but it is generally released to the marketplace. This complex process of sparkling wine is known as the Methode Champenoise or Methode Traditionelle. Many winemakers throughout the world now use this method for producing their sparkling wines.

Other Sparkling Wines

The Charmat Method, also known as the tank method, the autoclave method and the methode cuvée close, is a relatively inexpensive way of making sparkling wines. An added advantage is that this method is very easy to control. Eugene Charmat, a French chemist, developed this method around the turn of the century. In this process, a still wine is put into a large vat with a closed pressure system. A measured amount of sugar and yeast is added to induce a second fermentation. After this fermentation is complete, the wine (now charged with dissolved CO2) is filtered and bottled while being constantly maintained in a pressurized system. Although this method is faster and less expensive than the Methode Champenoise, the bubbles escaping from the Charmat-produced wine are somewhat larger and are released from the wine much more rapidly.

History and Method

Bottled wines often become effervescent, especially in the spring when the weather grows warmer. These warmer temperatures probably re-awaken yeast cells that have been bottled with the wine but kept dormant by the cooler weather of winter. In the past, this unexpected re-fermentation often resulted in exploding bottles. Because the bubbly nature of these wines was pleasing to many people, some means of controlling the secondary fermentation in the bottle was necessary.

Dom Perignon, a blind French Benedictine monk, is credited with discovering a method of control. During the 17th century, in his role as cellar-master, Dom Perignon noticed that many of his still wines began to re-ferment in the spring with the inevitable bursting of bottles. Through much trial and error, he discovered a solution to this problem. He learned that the amount of carbon dioxide in the bottle could be controlled by allowing the wine to completely finish its fermentation in the vat and then adding a small dose of sugar syrup and yeast to the bottled wine. To prevent the stopper from being ejected from the bottle as a result of increasing pressure, he used string or wire to tie the cork to the neck of the bottle. But one problem remained: how to remove the dead yeast cells from each bottle without losing the wine or its effervescence.

During the early 1800’s, Madame Cliquot, the founder of the Champagne company known as Veuve Cliquot (Widow Cliquot), developed a system for removing this debris.  Her clearing process involved two very delicate and time-consuming steps known as remuage and degorgement. Remuage involves the use of a specially built bottle rack known as a pupitre. To begin the process of remuage, the bottles are placed neck-first in a horizontal position in the pupitres. Each day the bottles are given a slight circular and upward twist to shake the sediment into the neck of the bottle. Eventually the bottle is completely upside-down in the rack with the sediment lying on the cork. This sediment must now be removed without losing any wine or effervescence.

 

The degorgement procedure begins by carefully removing the upside-down bottles from the pupitres. The neck of each bottle is dipped into a freezing brine solution until a small ice pellet has formed trapping the sediment. The cork is then removed. The pressure inside the bottle then ejects the ice pellet and the trapped sediment. A small dosage of sugar syrup is added to adjust the wine’s sweetness and then a new cork is inserted into the bottle and tightly wired down.

Traditionally, both remuage and degorgement have been manual procedures. But with the advent of modern technology, remuage has been partially mechanized and degorgement has been fully mechanized.

Although more expensive and time consuming than other methods, the Champenoise Methode is still the preferred technique used in the manufacture of fine sparkling wines. The bubbles of escaping carbon dioxide are smaller and the effervescence lasts for a much longer time than wines produced by other methods.