This week is another fun post covering sparkling wine and bubbles. If you drink alcohol, I’m sure you’ve had some type of sparkling wine to celebrate a wedding, birthday, New Year, or other special occasion. You may have noticed that the bubbles have a different texture in different wines. This post will be a little more on the food science front, going into why that is. If you’re not an alcohol drinker, there are non-alcoholic sparkling beverages that I’ll go into as well.
I’ll start with Champagne, since it is by far the most famous. It is also the most time-consuming and expensive to produce, but makes small, delicate bubbles that last a long time. Base wine is fermented as usual, but undergoes a second fermentation and aging in the bottle.
True Champagne is only made in the Champagne region of northern France. The French government has strict regulations under the Appellation d’Origine Controlée (AOC) that govern practices from planting through to packaging. Many western European countries have a similar structure governing their agricultural goods.
The most important things to know about Champagne is that it is made with the Champagne method, also known as the traditional method or méthode champenoise. There are seven approved grape varieties, with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir being the most common, and there is a minimum aging requirement of 15 months.
Sparkling wine using the same method is produced in other places, though under different names. A Crémant is sparkling made in the traditional method but produced in other regions of France. You may see a Crémant d’Alsace, for example, or a Crémant de Loire.
Cava is traditional method sparkling made in Spain. It is most commonly produced in Penedès outside of Barcelona. It’s typically made with Macabeo, Xarello, and Parellada and has a minimum aging requirement of nine months. You may also see California Champagne, which a few producers have been grandfathered into being able to use, however most labels will simply say sparkling wine.
The second level of bubble quality comes from the charmat or tank method. It essentially works in the same way as the traditional method, however the secondary fermentation takes place in a large, pressurized tank. The sparkling wine is bottled after the bubbles are produced. This method makes larger, coarser bubbles and is typically less complex than wine made using the méthode champenoise.
The final method I’ll go over in this post is carbon dioxide injection. It’s the same way that soda is made, which you may have seen if you own a home soda maker. When it comes to industrial production, the gas injection usually takes place in a large tank prior to bottling and produces rough, large bubbles that dissipate quickly. The appeal of this method is that it’s inexpensive to produce. The cheapest sparkling wine bottles you see in the store are likely to use this method. It can be tricky to spot, but a good bet is that if a more expensive, time-consuming, or quality process is used, then it will be noted somewhere on the label. If not, it’s anyone’s guess, and that usually means the cheapest and easiest to make.
For those that don’t drink alcohol, I didn’t forget about you. There are now a few wineries producing sparkling wine with the alcohol removed through distillation or filtration. I haven’t tried any of these, so I can’t speak to their quality, but the base can be made using the same methods described above. Keep in mind that these products are allowed to contain 0.5% residual alcohol.
If you are more of a purist and need or want something that never had alcohol in the first place, there are a lot more sparkling juices, ciders, flavored waters, teas, and kombuchas on the market than there have been in the past. If you are curious about any that you may find, or want something to celebrate Ramadan when it ends, comment, email, or find me on social media and I’ll help you find it!
Hope you enjoyed the read and until next time!