February is the month that many champagne corks are popped. Though LDV Winery does not produce sparkling wine, we love the bubbly. Champagne is produced in the French Champagne wine region, and it is produced using Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier grapes. Otherwise, bubbly wine is called sparkling wine in the U.S., Cava in Spain, or Spumante (meaning sparkling wine in Italian) in Italy for example. In Italy the three names for sparkling wine, Prosecco, Franciacorta, or Asti Spumante refers to the wine region or type of grapes used in the base wine. For example, if you are enjoying a Prosecco, you know it is from northwestern Italy and produced from “Glera” grapes.
Méthode champenoise, also known as the traditional method, is the sparkling wine production method whereby the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle. The first fermentation begins the same as still wine; converting sugar in the grapes to alcohol to make the base wine. After blending and bottling the base wine, a second fermentation occurs in the bottle. A small amount of yeast and sugar called “liqueur de tirage” is added to the blended bottled wine and a crown cap (temporary cap) is added to capture the carbon dioxide produced. The wine ages for about 15 months.
Riddling happens toward the end of the méthode champenoise process. This traditional process requires a person to periodically rotate the bottle a quarter turn while simultaneously tilting it until it is upside down. It can take up to six weeks to complete the riddling process. An expert can riddle 20,000 to 75,000 bottles a day. The movement causes dead yeast and sediment to accumulate in the bottle neck. Disgorgement is the removal of these particles by freezing the bottle neck. The frozen plug is then ejected under the pressure when the bottle is opened and a permanent cork is then inserted.
Next time you pop that Champagne cork take a moment to honor the grape to bottle journey. I think the traditional method is well worth the celebration. Better yet, hop on a plane to visit the Champagne region and tour a champagne house like we did. It is amazing.