An insight into the world of sparkling wine
Sparkling wine is a hot topic at the moment and is currently incredibly popular with UK consumers. As a product becomes more and more popular, we find that we are more frequently asked questions about where our product comes from and how it is made when we engage with consumers at various wine festivals and the shows that we attend throughout the year.
We also see regular web enquiries asking the same sort of questions about our sparkling wine products and so we thought it may prove useful to provide an insight into the various types of sparkling wine and how they are made.
Types of Sparkling Wine
Most wine consumers associate sparkling wine with celebration. Whether it’s the end of a tough working week or a family wedding, the popping corks and frothy delivery add a little bit of excitement to the occasion. There’s also a good slice of decadence thrown into the mix as we are reminded of Champagne, a traditionally expensive wine. Champagne is not, of course, the only sparkling wine, in fact there are many different sparklers on the market, produced in various countries around the world. Here are just a few of the more popular sparkling wines available:
Champagne is perhaps the most famous sparkling wine type and it is produced in the Champagne region in France. Some sparkling wines in the USA and the UK are branded as “champagne” with a lower case ‘c’ and are produced using the same process as French Champagne but cannot officially be labelled “Champagne”. Several varieties of grapes are blended together and allowed to ferment in the bottle to produce the traditional taste and bouquet associated with Champagne.
Sales of Prosecco have exploded over the last few years especially in the UK. This dry white Italian sparkling wine, produced using the Charmat method, tends to be quite a dry, sweet wine due to the Prosecco grapes used in its production. It is available in lightly sparkling and enthusiastically sparkling variants. Prosecco is unlike Champagne in that it doesn’t really age well, and is best consumed soon after bottling. The secondary fermentation process doesn’t take place in the bottle during the Charmat production method but rather in large stainless steel tanks.
A dry Spanish (white or rosé) sparkling wine produced using the champenoise method but with different varieties of grape from those used in Champagne or Prosecco. Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, and Chardonnay grapes are traditionally used to produce Cava. Cava is normally a more dry wine than Prosecco and is not as light and fruity, suiting consumers who prefer a dry, less sweet sparkler.
A sweet Italian sparkling wine traditionally produced in the Asti region again using the Charmat method as for Prosecco. Sweet Muscat grapes are used to create this sweet wine which tends to have a lower alcohol content of around 8%.
This sparkling wine hails from Germany where it is produced using Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc grapes. Sekt is normally produced, once more, using the Charmat method but there are less expensive varieties made through a process of carbon dioxide injection to introduce the effervescence.
Sekt is also made in Austria, but is produced using the méthode champenoise using Gruner Veltliner and Welschriesling grapes and so it tends to have a more golden colour than German Sekt.
How Sparkling Wine Is Made
The majority of sparkling wine varieties go through two fermentation processes. The first results in a base wine which is basically still wine produced from grape juice. The next fermentation process turns the base wine into a sparkling wine through the addition of yeasts and sugar to the existing base wine. The yeasts turn the additional sugar into alcohol and instigate the production of the carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles that make it a sparkling wine.
The CO2 is produced when the yeasts turn the sugar into alcohol as part of the natural process. The fermentation occurs in a sealed vat which ensures that the CO2 is retained in the liquid. The secondary fermentation is the longer process and can be allowed to take place over a few months or many years depending upon the type of sparkling wine being made. Some Champagnes can ferment for a period of years resulting in an expensive wine with a particular, crafted taste and appeal. Other sparklers, such as Prosecco, may only undergo secondary fermentation for a few months resulting in a lighter, fruitier sparkling wine which tends to be less expensive than Champagne and which will be more appealing to a different sector of consumers.
There are many slight variations in production processes of sparkling wine, but basically there are 2 main methods. Vat fermentation and bottle fermentation
Vat Fermentation (The Charmat Method)
This is a fast and efficient production method named after the French winemaker, Eugene Charmat, who supported, refined and promoted this particular process. The sparkling wine undergoes its secondary fermentation in a sealed, pressurised stainless steel vat. A lot of wine can be produced in one go where very large vats are used.
Sparkling wines fermented in a vat are usually more fruity than sparkling wines fermented in the bottle. This is because the process of converting the grapes into wine is more direct than when wine ferments in a bottle. Many wine producers intentionally use and tailor the Charmat method to produce sparkling wine because their requirement is for a lighter, fruity sparkling wine such as Asti or Prosecco. Sparklers produced using the Charmat method are intended to be consumed within a few months of their production when their light flavours and effervescence are at their peak.
Fermentation In The Bottle
This is the traditional method of producing sparkling wines. The process of allowing secondary fermentation in the bottle is known as the classic/traditional method or the Champagne method and, somewhat predictably, is how Champagne is made. It is less efficient and a more expensive wine production method as more space is required to store the bottles containing less liquid than in a vat, and the storage tends to be for a lengthy period of time, usually many years. Also, the process is meticulous and needs to be closely monitored. This method can be tailored to produce a particular type of wine to suit a particular consumer taste by blending different types of grape (usually Pinot Noir or Chardonnay grapes) and using certain types and quantities of yeast.
Champagne has been produced using this method for the last 3 centuries and, in line with French regulations, cannot be produced in any other way and still be called Champagne. Other French sparkling wines made outside of the Champagne region are produced using the traditional method but use the term crémant in their descriptions instead of the term Champagne.
Bottle fermentation induces different flavours in the resulting sparkling wines, from the Charmat method. These wines are less fruity and tend to have more of a biscuity, toasty, nutty or caramel aroma and flavour. Also, the wine has a more creamy texture and the CO2 bubbles are smaller meaning that the wine is less “fizzy” than a wine produced using the Charmat method.
Check out the sparkling wines on the Premier Estates Wine website produced using the Charmat method. These include our award winning Italian Prosecco and our Italian Grand Rosé Spumante (popularly known as Pink Fizz). Also, try our Spanish Cava, made using the “Metodo Tradicional” if you prefer a more dry sparkling wine.