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Inside Knowledge: Sparkling Wine - How's it made?

Sparkling Wine: How is it made?


In Short:
Embark on a journey through the world of sparkling wine to discover the meticulous craftsmanship and diverse flavours that define this celebratory essential.

From the famous ‘maisons’ of Champagne to the sun-kissed vineyards of Italy and beyond, each country and region imparts its own unique charm and character into every sparkling drop. Join us as we embark on a journey through the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into creating sparkling wines.

How is sparkling wine made?

There are a few different ways of making sparkling wine, each with its own distinct characteristics and production techniques. The main methods include:

Méthode Traditionnelle (Traditional Method or Méthode Champenoise)
This method, famously used in Champagne production, involves conducting the secondary fermentation in the individual bottles. After the base wine is made, it is bottled with a mixture of sugar and yeast to induce a second fermentation, trapping carbon dioxide in the wine and creating bubbles. The wine is then aged in contact with the yeast cells (lees) for added complexity before undergoing riddling, disgorging, and dosage.

Charmat Method (Tank Method or Metodo Martinotti)
In this method, the secondary fermentation takes place in large, pressurised tanks rather than individual bottles. After the base wine is made, it is transferred to a tank along with sugar and yeast to ferment. Once fermentation is complete, the wine is filtered, carbonated, and bottled under pressure.

Transfer Method
This method combines aspects of both the traditional method and the Charmat method. The secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle, similar to the traditional method, but after ageing, the wine is transferred to a pressurised tank for disgorgement and dosage before being rebottled.

Carbonation Method
Also known as the injection method, this is the simplest and least expensive method of producing sparkling wine. Carbon dioxide is simply injected into still wine to create bubbles, rather than relying on fermentation. This method is commonly used for producing inexpensive sparkling wines or those intended for immediate consumption.


Which grapes are used for sparkling wine?

Several grape varieties are commonly used in the production of sparkling wine, each contributing its own unique characteristics to the final product. Some of the most widely used grapes include

Chardonnay: Known for its versatility and ability to express terroir, Chardonnay is a key component in many sparkling wines, particularly those produced in Champagne, France. It lends elegance, acidity, and citrus notes to the blend.

Pinot Noir: Another staple of Champagne production, Pinot Noir adds structure, body, and red fruit flavours to sparkling wines. It is often used in conjunction with Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier to create a well-balanced blend.

Pinot Meunier: This grape variety is primarily grown in Champagne and is valued for its fruitiness and approachability. It adds softness, roundness, and floral aromatics to sparkling wines, complementing the characteristics of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Glera: The primary grape used in the production of Prosecco, Glera contributes fresh, fruity flavours such as green apple, pear, and white peach. It is known for its lively acidity and delicate bubbles.

Chenin Blanc: Widely used in the production of sparkling wines from the Loire Valley in France and South Africa, Chenin Blanc offers crisp acidity, floral aromatics, and flavours of apple, pear, and honey.

Riesling: Although less common, Riesling is used in the production of sparkling wines in regions such as Germany and the United States. It imparts refreshing acidity, vibrant fruit flavours, and floral aromatics.

These are just a few examples of the grape varieties used in sparkling wine production. Winemakers are always experimenting with new and exciting new ways to create our favourite fizz.


Which countries make sparkling wine?

France: The birthplace of bubbles?
When we think of sparkling wine, it's impossible not to conjure images of Champagne, the epitome of luxury and refinement. In this esteemed region of France, the ‘méthode champenoise’ reigns supreme. This labour-intensive process involves a secondary fermentation that occurs directly in the bottle, resulting in those fine, persistent bubbles that dance on the palate. From the careful selection of grapes, predominantly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, to the precise blending and ageing in cool, dark cellars, every step is executed with unparalleled precision and expertise. The result? Timeless classics like Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot, renowned for their elegance and sophistication. For many years it was believed that the French monk Dom Perignon had invented sparkling wine in 1668. However, we now know that although he was pivotal in its popularity, sparkling wine was first created in Winchcombe, England in 1662…

England: A Rising Star in the World of Sparkling Wine
In recent years, England has emerged as a formidable player in the world of sparkling wine, thanks to a climate similar to Champagne, growing interest in winemaking in the UK and its dedication to excellence. With chalky soils reminiscent of its French counterpart, regions such as Sussex and Kent have proven themselves capable of producing sparkling wines that rival those of Champagne. The traditional method is employed here as well, with varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier thriving in this cool, maritime climate. From the award-winning Nyetimber to the more boutique producers like Ridgeview, English sparkling wines are gaining recognition for their exceptional quality and distinctive character.

Italy: La Dolce Vita in a glass
Venture to Italy, and you'll discover a vibrant tapestry of sparkling wines, each reflecting the unique terroir of its respective region. From the crisp, refreshing Prosecco of Veneto to the rich, complex Franciacorta of Lombardy, Italian sparkling wines offer a diverse array of flavours and styles to suit every palate. The Charmat method, wherein the secondary fermentation occurs in large stainless steel tanks, is commonly employed for producing Prosecco, resulting in a bright, fruit-forward profile that captures the essence of la dolce vita. Meanwhile, in Franciacorta, the ‘méthode traditionnelle’ (the same process as méthode champenoise) is favoured, yielding refined sparkling wines imbued with layers of complexity and finesse.

The Rest of the World: A Global Celebration of Bubbles
Beyond Europe, sparkling wine production has flourished in regions as diverse as California, Australia, and South Africa, each imparting its own unique flair to the craft. In California's Napa Valley, renowned for its sunny days and cool nights, winemakers harness the méthode traditionnelle to produce sparkling wines of unparalleled richness and depth. Meanwhile, in Australia's picturesque Yarra Valley, the cool, maritime climate lends itself to the production of vibrant, fruit-driven sparkling wines that exude a sense of youthful exuberance. And in South Africa's Cape Winelands, the tradition of méthode cap classique has taken root, yielding sparkling wines of exceptional quality and finesse.

What is the difference between Champagne, Prosecco, Crémant and Sparkling Wine?

In short, many sparkling wines are made in the same way, but must be named specifically depending on the appellation in which the grapes are grown. For example, only grapes grown in Champagne may produce wine labelled as such - whereas Crémant may only be from the Alsace, Bourgogne, the Loire, Limoux, and Jura - even though both styles are made using the traditional method.

Other countries have developed their own regulations to ensure that the highest quality wines, produced in the traditional method are recognised. The term ‘Cap Classique’ is regulated by the South African wine authorities, ensuring that wines labelled as such meet certain quality standards and production requirements. Cava is specific to Spanish sparkling wine produced using the traditional method but made from indigenous grape varieties such as Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel·lo.

In the UK, the term ‘Méthode Traditionnelle’ can be used if the production is as such, but wines must also be packaged with foil capped around the cork and fastening, if they are not packaged in this way they can only be labelled as Sparkling Wine.

In Italy, the key difference between Prosecco and other tank method wines lies in the grape variety and production region. Prosecco is made primarily from the Glera grape in the Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia regions, while other tank method wines may use different grape varieties and come from diverse regions across Italy, yielding varied flavour profiles. Prosecco can range in sweetness, however most tend to be Brut (dry) or Extra Dry (off-dry). 

Whether it's the timeless elegance of Champagne, the laid-back charm of Prosecco, or the pioneering spirit of English sparkling wine, one thing is certain – the world of fizz is as diverse and dynamic as it is delightful. So, raise a glass and toast to the joy of discovering new and exciting sparkling wines from around the world.