Bubbles are magical! Where do they come from?
All wine produces carbon dioxide as it ferments, so for it to become sparkling, the carbon dioxide created during fermentation must be forced back into the wine under pressure. Winemakers do this by sealing the container that the wine is fermenting in – usually a bottle (méthode champenoise or Champagne method), or on a larger scale in a tank (charmat).
In Australia we have two basic categories of sparkling based on the grape varieties used:
- Those made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier inspired by the wines made in Champagne. We can’t call them ‘Champagne’ so we tend to just use ‘sparkling wine’.
- Those made with the Prosecco grape and labelled Prosecco, based on the Italian style sparkling wine of the same name. (Nb the official name of the grape is actually Glera, which exists mostly to complicate things!).
Whats all this talk about yeast?
Wines made in the Champagne method have yeast remaining in the bottle after fermentation. If the winemaker chooses to, they can leave the wine in contact with the yeast for around 18 – 45 months. This adds yeasty flavours to the wine which might remind you of pastry, brioche or dough. Some people LOVE these flavours and some really don’t. If you love them, look for 36 months minimum yeast ageing. If you don’t, try less than 18 months, or Prosecco.
Eh..so many French words! Halp!
Even though we can’t call our Aussie sparkling ‘Champagne’ any more, we still like to add a bit of glamour by using French terms on our wine labels:
> ‘Brut’ means ‘dry’, referring to the fact that the wine has little or no residual sugar.
> ‘Cuvee’ means ‘blend’ and is a reference to the idea that the wine is assembled from different parcels, varieties or seasons.
> ‘Non-Vintage or NV’ means that the final wine is a blend of wines from different year. Non-vintage wines are generally more consistent and cheaper than vintage wines.
> ‘Vintage’ will have the year of production on the label – this is generally regarded as the pinnacle of quality and price.
Styles by Flavour
If you like your fizz fresh, energetic and fruity you can’t go past Prosecco. Prosecco normally is made in the charmat method and doesn’t have any yeast ageing influence. You can buy the locally made wines or you can buy Italian made Prosecco also. They vary a bit on the sweetness – but in general are super delicious, affordable and have a superior crowd pleasing ability. Try anything from King Valley – Dalzotto, Brown Brothers, Sam Miranda, Chrismont & Redbank all make excellent examples.
Bottle fermented NV normally retails from $25 upwards – made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Meunier blended from different years, these are generally great value. They’re super reliable as most are made by big producers (like Jansz, Brown Brothers, Domaine Chandon, Arras etc) and they have a bit more flavour going on than Prosecco mostly due to the yeast ageing. Depending on the blend they can be super light, fine, floral & citrus (more percentage Chardonnay) or really quite rich and voluptuous (more percentage of Pinot Noir).
Hold on, is there yeast in my fizz?
Nope – but it can be quite an effort to remove it. With the charmat (tank) made wines, removing it is a simple filtering process before bottling. Bottle-fermented wines are trickier: the bottle must be turned upside down so all of the dead yeast settles in the bottle’s neck. The neck is then snap-frozen and opened – and voila, out pops the little plug of yeast solids. This process is called ‘disgorgement’. To replace the volume lost through disgorgement, a little more wine is added to each bottle. This wine contains a specific sugar-to-acid ratio to correct any imbalance in the sparkling wine; it is called a ‘dosage’. Finally, the bottle is sealed again, ready for packaging.
Are flutes still a thing?
Yes. And no. Flutes make you look sexy and elegant, and they help the bubbles to last longer – both very important factors! If you want to get a sense of the full array of flavours in the wine though, you’re best to use a white wine glass. Yes, it will flatten the wine a little, but that means you’ll have more of a chance to get a truer insight into the character of the wine – especially the aromas, which are difficult to recognise out of a flute. If you’re not convinced, pour a taste in a wine glass, and a taste in a flute and decide for yourself.
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