Sparkling Spring

Spring is in full swing and so are the bubbles!

We’ve curated an awesome selection of sparkling wines that pair well with the new season...

Champagne, Petillant Naturel, Cava, Prosecco, Lambrusco…we’ve got them all!

But have you ever wondered “how do they get those bubbles in there?”

There’s more than one way to make bubbly. Sparkling wine’s long history spans quite a bit in the way of trial and error and new technologies and techniques, making the preferred way of producing the stuff somewhat variable.

The Traditional Method is the one Champagne lovers tend to wax poetically about and is far and away the most involved. This is the méthode classique, laborious and expensive. Riddling, disgorging, and more take place and the whole process is extensive, requiring specialized equipment and lots of discipline.

Traditional Method a.k.a. Méthode Champenoise, méthode traditionnelle, Metodo Classico Examples: Cava, Champagne, Crémant and Italian Metodo Classico wines. The traditional method of sparkling winemaking was awarded a UNESCO heritage in Champagne in 2015. It is–arguably–the most appreciated method for sparkling wine production in terms of quality, and at the same time it is also the most costly in terms of production. The most important facet of the traditional method is that the transformation from a still to a sparkling wine occurs entirely inside the bottle.

  1. Base Wine or “Cuvée”: grapes are picked (usually just a bit younger to preserve acidity) and fermented into a dry wine. The winemaker then takes the various base wines and blends them together into what the French call a “cuvée”, which is the final sparkling wine blend.

  2. Tirage: Yeast and sugars are added to the cuvée to start the second fermentation and wines are bottled (and topped with crown caps).

  3. 2nd Fermentation: (inside the bottle) The second fermentation adds about 1.3% more alcohol and the process creates CO2 which is trapped inside the bottle thus carbonating the wine. The yeast dies in a process called autolysis and remains in the bottle.

  4. Aging: Wines are aged on their lees (the dead yeast particles) for a period of time to develop texture in the wine. Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months of aging (36 months for vintage Champagne). Cava requires a minimum of 9 months of aging but requires up to 30 months for Gran Reserva Cava. Most believe the longer the wine ages on its lees, the better.

  5. Riddling: Clarification occurs by settling the bottle upside down and the dead yeast cells collect in the neck of the bottle.

  6. Disgorging: Removing sediment from bottle. The bottles are placed upside down into freezing liquid which causes the yeast bits to freeze in the neck of the bottle. The crown cap is then popped off momentarily which allows the frozen chunk of lees to shoot out of the pressurized bottle.

  7. Dosage: A mixture of wine and sugar (called Exposition liqueur) is added to fill bottles and then bottles are corked, wired and labeled.

Tank Method a.k.a. Charmat Method, Metodo Italiano

Examples: Prosecco, Lambrusco

The tank method came about during the industrial advancements made in the early 20th century and is the main process used for Prosecco and Lambrusco wines. The major difference between the tank method and the traditional method is the removal of the individual bottle as the vessel used to turn a still wine into a sparkling one. Instead, base wines are added together with the sugar and yeast mixture (Tirage) into a large tank. As the wine has a second fermentation, the CO2 released from the fermentation causes the tank to pressurize, whereafter wines are then filtered, dosed (with Exposition liqueur) and bottled without aging. Tank method sparkling wines have a much more freshly made character with stronger secondary (yeasty) flavors. Some may argue that the tank method is not as high-quality of a production method as the traditional method of sparkling wine. While the process is more affordable (and thus is popular with lower quality wines), it is still used for fine sparkling winemaking.

Ancestral Method a.k.a. Méthode Ancestrale, Méthode Rurale, Pétillant Naturel (a.k.a. “Pet-nat”)

One of the oldest known ways of making sparkling wine is called, quite appropriately, the ancestral method. Being a formative technique, it’s a bit more crude, but proponents argue that it results in greater flavor and variation. Similar praises are sung for other related hands-off approaches, like native yeast fermentations or refraining from filtering or fining a wine — minimal intervention, maximum character, they say.

Like a lot of early approaches, the ancestral method is lacking a bit in the way of control. As such, it can be viewed as too much of a gamble in the modern era for some labels. Essentially, primary fermentation is stopped before the wine goes dry, leaving some residual sugar. A secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle, assuming no hiccups arise, with the resident yeast chowing down on the leftover sugar from the first go-around (no sugar is added, per the “dosage” step in classic sparkling production). Typically there is no disgorgement phase to clean up the wine, which would normally tackle sediment of leftover lees. Subscribers like that this method is both relatively straightforward and not costly. And when the wines are well-made (or the producer just enjoys a stroke of good luck), they tend to be more expressive on the palate than bubbly fashioned out of more mechanized techniques.

While you may not always see “ancestral method” or “méthode ancestrale” on the bottle, you’re probably already familiar with the style. It’s this old approach that’s behind the recent resurgence of Pét-Nat wines. Winemakers and consumers alike are breathing life back into the 500-year-old practice and drinking in the often aromatic and lower-ABV results. They don’t always look clean and tidy, per the cloudiness that comes from the lees, but they can make up for that in terms of flavor.

Piquette (wine like beverage) what's old is new again

Piquette is basically White Claw for wine lovers: low ABV, high drinkability. It’s made by adding water to grape pomace—the solids left over after grapes are pressed for wine—and fermenting it into a deliciously sparkling bev that clocks in between 5 and 9 percent. While piquette’s flavors vary depending on the grape variety, it always tickles your nose with fresh fruit and pricks your palate with salty effervescence that begs for a second round. It goes down as quick as your favorite flavor of La Croix but with the bright acid and soft tannin textures of your favorite pétillant-naturel. Also, piquette is much more than a fad. It has been made for centuries across the globe as a way to use grape pomace that would otherwise be thrown out. Traditionally it was a beverage consumed by the vineyard workers after a hard day in the fields. But these days it’s giving winemakers another source of revenue and inquisitive wine drinkers another way to experience wine culture…

While we have some incredible Grower Champagnes (small production champagne from single vineyards) made with the Traditional Method, we also have sparkling wine like prosecco and lambrusco made with the Tank Method. One of our favorite styles, the sparkling wines we love the most, are Pet-Nat’s (made with the Ancestral Method). And of course, how could I forget the lovely piquette…perfect for a backyard BBQ situation!

Anyhow, I might have gone overboard in ordering the sparkling wines for spring and we’ve got a ton! Come by and explore them with us and we’ll show you our favorites…

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