How to choose sparkling wine (2)

How to choose sparkling wine (2)

Diego looks at EsteladoWhen looking at the labels on sparkling wine bottles, you may see terms like in-bottle fermentation and traditional method and wonder what all the fuss is about.

In fact, the way in which the still wine is made into sparkling wine influences the style, aromas and flavours of the wine and some argue even the size and consistency of the bubbles. So, when you are choosing a sparkling wine, it’s useful to know about the method used for the second fermentation.

Bottles in a pupitre at Domaine Raab Ramsay

Bottles in a pupitre at Domaine Raab Ramsay

Sediment in the neck of the bottle. (Photo courtesy: Nadezda Kuznetsova)

Sediment in the neck of the bottle. (Photo courtesy: Nadezda Kuznetsova)

Second fermentation methods

1) In many cases, the second fermentation takes place in a special, strong stainless steel tank and when the wine is ready, the Liqueur d’expedition is added and it is bottled. This is called the tank method or the Charmat method and is one of the most common methods around the world for making sparkling wine.

2) The traditional method  or in-bottle fermentation method (which used also to be called méthode champenoise) is to bottle the still wine following the first fermentation, add the liqueur de tirage, then put in a temporary cork. The bottles are placed neck first into the holes in a pupitre, a hinged rectangular block. They start in a horizontal position and, over a period of months, are gradually moved by hand until they are upside down, so that the sediment settles in the neck of the bottle. Many wineries these days use a mechanised system for moving the bottles called a gyropallette.

Once the wine is ready, the cap end of the bottle is submerged in a freezing brine solution to solidify the sediment in the neck. Then, in a quick motion, the temporary cork is removed and the frozen block of sediment is ejected from the bottle (along with some wine) because of the pressure of gas inside. This process is called disgorgement. This leaves some space in the bottle, which is filled with Liqueur d’expedition. Then the wine is corked and muzzled and prepared for sale.

3) The transfer method is a modification on this system, whereby the second fermentation takes place in the bottle but then the contents are disgorged into a tank under pressure, filtered and the liqueur de tirage is added. Then the wine is bottled again. Many bottles with “in-bottle fermentation” on their label may also have been made using this system.

4) Some very cheap sparkling wines are simply carbonated (like fizzy drinks).

5) Finally there are some wines made using the Asti method. Where normally sparkling wine is made from a dry wine which already completed its first fermentation, in the case of an Asti-style of wine, the process takes place in just one fermentation, which is never completed, as the winemaker chills the wine when it reaches around 7%-7% ABV and has achieved the right level of gas.  Then it is filtered, bottled and sold for immediate use. So these wines are sweet and relatively low alcohol.

sparkling party 2So how to choose a style of sparkling wine to suit your taste?

If you are looking for a fresh sparkling wine with fruity aromas and a clean, refreshing mouth, in the style of the light, fruity Prosecco so popular at the moment, then a Charmat wine is a good option. There are many good Chilean examples, including Undurraga Brut Royal and Valdivieso Grand Brut.

If you want something more complex, with a denser, creamier mouth and aromas and flavours reminiscent of sponge cake, toast, biscuits or bread, then an in-bottle fermentation wine is a good option. These notes come from the time the wine spends with its yeast sediment in the bottle.  Some also argue that the bubbles are finer. Champagne is made in this way, as are many premium sparkling wines from many countries of the world. Chile is no exception, producing many very delicious and affordable sparkling wines using the traditional, in-bottle fermentation method. Chilean examples include Echeverría Espumante and Undurraga’s Titillum.

If you fancy trying something a little different, you could try Apaltagua Costero, which includes Sauvignon Blanc with a marine influence or Miguel Torres Estelado, made with the País grape.

If you want a sweet, low alcohol easy drinking wine inspired by Asti, you could consider Echeverría’s Moscato Frizzante, a lightly sparkling wine made with Moscato grapes. Served nice and cold, it is refreshing and pleasantly sweet and aromatic.

In the next post, I’ll reveal the favourite sparkling wines from our tasting panel, in which 9 people of 6 different nationalities blind tasted 6 different Chilean sparkling wines retailing at under 10,000 pesos (£10 / US$15).

To discover how to tell how sweet a sparkling wine is, check out my post How to choose sparkling wine (1).

For more information about sparkling wine, check out these posts:

A sparkling toast to the weekend

Chilean chips and sparkling wine

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