1. The various production methods
The traditional method
The traditional method involves secondary fermentation in the bottle. This is created by adding a “liqueur de tirage” (wine + yeast + sugar mixture) to a base wine (still dry wine) bottled with a temporary closure. The action of the yeasts in contact with the sugar contained in the mixture creates alcohol as well as carbon dioxide.
To settle the dead yeast after fermentation, the bottled wines are stored for a period of time which varies in duration according to the region. The collected deposit is then expelled from the bottle (dégorgement) and the addition of the “liqueur d’expédition” determines the wine’s sugar dosage. The sparkling wine then receives its final closure.
The ancestral method
This method is similar to the traditional method, but slightly more tricky. The base wine is partially fermented, then cooled and bottled. Alcoholic fermentation therefore takes place in the bottle, without the addition of a “liqueur de tirage” and produces the carbon dioxide of the bubbles.
To settle the dead yeast after fermentation, the bottled wines are stored for a period of time which varies in duration according to the region. The collected deposit is then expelled from the bottle (dégorgement) and the wine receives its final closure. Unlike the traditional method, no “liqueur de tirage” is added, and it is the natural sugar content that defines the style of the wine.
The closed tank (or Charmat) method
Unlike the traditional and ancestral methods with secondary fermentation in the bottle, in the closed tank method, secondary fermentation takes place in tanks.
A “liqueur de tirage” is added to the base wine in a pressure-resistant tank, maintained at a temperature of 20°C. After 10 days’ fermentation, the sparkling wine is filtered and then returned to the tank with its carbon dioxide before being bottled.
2. The grape varieties
Depending on the style of sparkling wine being produced, some grape varieties are more suitable than others.
For highly aromatic sparkling wines, the Muscat is commonly used.
For less aromatic sparkling wines, the Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Pinot Blanc are often preferred.
3. Sparkling wine producing regions
The most prestigious of all sparkling wine regions is undoubtedly Champagne.
Its method of production has inspired many other wine regions, both in France or abroad: France with its Crémants produced in Alsace, Bordeaux, Burgundy, Loire and Limoux, Spain with its Cava, South Africa with its Cape Classic method, etc.
Italy, meanwhile, is known for its Prosecco, produced using the closed tank method.
4. Some mythical sparkling wines
The birthplace of prestigious sparkling wines, Champagne is very well represented by mythical Champagne Houses such as Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Krug, Louis Roederer, Moët & Chandon, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, etc.
5. Sparkling wines and food pairing
Sparkling wine drinking is generally associated with special occasions. Sparkling wines pair well with fruit or creamy desserts, fine seafood and shellfish, or foie gras.