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Methode Champenoise, The Art Of Champagne

As touched upon in my article “Making Red, Rose and Sparkling” wine, there are three different ways to create the bubbles in sparkling wine or Champagne. The first method was carbonation, the same method used to make a can of soda fizzy and also the cheapest method for making sparkling wine. Method number two was called the transfer method in which a sweetened base has yeast added to it and is allowed to ferment a second time in an enclosed tank so the building carbon dioxide cannot escape. After fermentation, the wine is then clarified and re-sweetened if necessary before being bottled under pressure. This method is used to produce medium price range sparkling wine. The last method and most complex is méthode champenoise, used in creating the best quality wines. But what exactly is méthode champenoise?

The méthode champenoise starts with the first fermentation held in either small oak barrels or large steel vats with temperature controls. The use of oak barrels is less common, however. After this first fermentation is complete, the wine is put through malolactic fermentation. This is when the wine maker takes hundreds of different fermented batches of wine from different vintages and grapes and blends them together. This new mixture is then sealed in bottles with a wine-sugar liqueur called “liqueur de tirage” and yeast. Fermentation happens inside the sealed bottles from one to three years typically and creates a build up of carbon dioxide.

The dead yeast inside the bottle form a deposit on the bottom of the bottle and needs to be removed. To do this bottles are placed horizontally on wooden racks and turned an eight every day and tilted until the bottles are vertically upside down. The neck of the bottle now contains the sediments of dead yeast; the neck is frozen using a brine solution so disgorgement (dégorgement) can take place.

The seals are removed from the now frozen bottlenecks and the built up gases force the frozen sediment out of the bottle. A sugary wine, “liqueur d’expédition” is used to top up the bottles to help offset the acidity of the base wine. Next corks are inserted and wired down to prevent popping from the gas pressure and the bottles are ready for sale.

This method takes much longer than the other two methods but it is for this reason wines made this way are more expensive and much higher quality. Examples of wine created using the méthode champenoise are Dom Pérignon (credited with first using this method), Bollinger, and Moët & Chandon. It is important to note, however that the European Union has ruled that the term méthode champenoise can only be used Champagne region wines. Any other sparkling wine must use the EU appointed term, Méthode traditionnelle (French for “traditional method”). However, méthode champenoise remains in use for wines in many non-European countries, but these wines cannot be imported to the EU.

Submitted by:

Ken Finnigan

Ken Finnigan is the CEO of http://www.finestwineracks.com a website specializing in quality decorative wine racks and durable wine storage systems.


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