By Rick Riozza
For the past twelve years or so that we’ve been doing this Vino Voice column, we attempt to interest not only the general wine enthusiast, but hopefully the entire wine game crowd; and that includes the connoisseur, the newbie, the nerd, the snob, and those who do not think themselves as enthusiasts, but enjoy a nice bottle of wine every so often.
And in these past dozen years, we seem to be covering more and more sparkling wines as the years have progressed. The reason being—bubbly has made it on the dinner table any day of the week. Although it remains quite celebratory—in the best way, folks are also enjoying sparklers as an everyday wine.
Put the two above paragraphs together and you’ll probably get an article that goes to explain—or better, simplify to most wine drinkers, how the heck do they get all those bubbles into that bottle anyway? Most wine folks can kinda explain things—but it can get a little murky and you’ll probably lose your listening audience, unless you’re pouring some great French Champagne, in which case, it doesn’t matter what you say.
So we’ll keep it simple and hopefully interesting for our wide and expansive readership:
Okay—the two basic ways bubbles appear in our sparkling wine is through the méthode champenoise—which is created through chemistry & physics within the bottle, and the Charmat method—which is created outside of the bottle by pure physical force!
Méthode champenoise is also known as the traditional process or method that began in Europe way back when. Most folks have heard something of the story that friar Dom Perignon accidently came upon the process and came up with—wait for it: great Champagne. Human experience knows better—but again, if you’re enjoying a great French Champagne, you don’t care if the story’s true or not!
(And not to bog down our simplified explanation—but, The European Union has restricted the use of the term méthode champenoise, which solely refers to wine made in the Champagne region of France using the technique. Wines made outside of the Champagne region using méthode champenoise must instead use the terms méthode classique, méthode traditionnelle, or its local equivalent. In the production of Spanish cava and Portuguese espumante, it’s referred to as método tradicional; in Italy, metodo classico; in Germany, klassische Flaschengärung—I told you we do write for the nerds as well, whaddya gonna do?)
The “traditional method” or the “methode Champenoise”:This style is used in Champagne, Cremants from elsewhere in France, Franciacorta (sparkling wine from Lombardy, Italy), and Cavas from Spain.
Start with a still, dry base wine (usually in stainless steel tanks). If you were making regular non-sparkling wine—well, you’ve already finished.
That wine is then bottled with additional sugar and yeast (i.e. the liqueur de tirage) so a second fermentation can take place in the bottle. A closure tops the bottle (usually a crown cap). The second fermentation creates carbon dioxide (CO2) inside the bottle as the yeast is eating the sugar and then “farting” the CO2 gas out! This CO2 has nowhere to go and essentially carbonates the wine and creates bubbles!
The Charmat Method is also known as the Bulk Method or Tank Method, and those words alone go to explain what goes on here: The wine is put into a stainless steel pressure tank to undergo the secondary fermentation and pummel the liquid with CO2 gas. Pretty much most Prosecco and many California sparklers are produced in this manner.
With the Charmat practice, the process typically takes one to six weeks, a much shorter time than the Traditional Method where the bottles are aged from 9 months to over 5 years. As one can tell, the cost differential can be staggering; great Champagne prices are up there—and great Rosé Champagne, which takes even longer to produce, are really sky-high!
Taste, Aroma, and Bubbles: Traditional Method – Because the wines have more contact with the lees, traditional method bubbly typically has aromas and flavors such as toastiness, nuttiness, caramel, and yeastiness. The texture seems smoother and creamier. The bubbles are tinier, and usually feel less aggressive in your mouth than the bubbles of charmat wines.
Charmat Method – These sparklers tend to be fruitier than traditional-method sparkling wines, especially those wines that are fermented for a shorter time period. The bubbles are typically larger and coarser than the bubbles in traditional method wines.
And now: Our bubbly wine pick of the week: J Vineyards N.V. Brut Rosé. A couple of weeks ago we recommended the J Vineyards Brut sparkling wine, which was a hit across the board. Now let’s keep the party going with the wine’s sparkling rosé sibling.
The winemaker’s notes state: “J Brut Rosé sparkles with a luminous cool pink hue and exudes delicate aromas of strawberry, nectarine, and juicy red apples. On the palate, the wine opens with flavors of cherry, blood orange, citrus peel and the tropical star fruit that are underlined by a bright acidity that keeps the overall impression delightfully fresh with a lively, lingering finish. The wine engages the entire palate with balance wrapped in a refined body of elegance and effervescence. Blend: 61% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 4% Pinot Meunier.
Tasting Panel Magazine wrote: “Pardon the metaphor, but we pictured a slot machine when tasting this shell-pink blend of 57% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay, and 6% Pinot Meunier, which spends an average of 30 months en tirage, with a panoply of fruits popping up one after another in addition to toasty baguette: strawberry, peach, and cantaloupe to start, followed by yellow cherry and blood orange on the sun kissed palate.”
We heartily agree: this Rosé is the bomb for both Mother’s Day and every day! Cheers!