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Champagne and Sparking Wine Production

Sparkling wine is simply wine with bubbles, there are a number of ways of making sparkling wines, from the slightly sparkling Vinho Verde to the full sparkling Prosecco and Champagne styles. Wines that have more than a simple spritz are generally made in one of three ways:- Tank, Traditional or Transfer.

The Tank Method

The Tank method is used mainly by the Italians and is used to make sparkling wines such as Prosecco and one of my favourites, Moscato d'Asti. It is sometimes called the Charmat method although the full name, by the two inventors, should be Charmat-Martinotti named after the Frenchman Charmat and the Italian Martinotti who created and perfected the process.

The Tank method is pretty simple. You start with a base wine and put it into a big tank, add yeast and sugar, and the yeast gobbles up the sugar converting it to alcohol but has a by product of carbon dioxide. Normally this goes off into the atmosphere to help global warming. But by butting a lid on the tank and stopping the bubbles escaping, the pressure from the CO2 increases more and more and more until the pressure is so high the bubbles dissolve into the wine. Once the yeast has eaten all the sugar, it starves to death and sinks to the bottom of the tank. The wine is then drained off the yeast under pressure and is bottled and ready to be drunk. The key thing about the Tank method is that the wines taste like the base wine, so with Processo the base wine often has a pear aroma, so with the Tank method you get a wine that smells of pears and is sparkling.

Traditional and Champagne Method

The Traditional method is perhaps the most common method used around the world and was invented in England and refined in Champagne. It is sometimes referred to as the Champagne method, but due to rules surrounding the term 'Champagne' for wines outside the region, it is most accurately described as the Traditional method. The method is similar to the Tank method. Start with a base wine, but this time bottle the still wine and add the yeast and the sugar at the time of bottling, and put a cap on the top. Again, the yeast eats the sugar creating alcohol and CO2. Again the pressure from the CO2 increases more and more and more until the pressure is so high the bubbles dissolve into the wine. Once the yeast has eaten all the sugar, it starves to death and sinks to the side of the glass, (bottles are lying on the side). Note the aging is important here, the wine lies on the dead yeast picking up yeasty, bready flavours as the yeast slowly breaks down, releasing amino acid glutamates and all sorts of goodies. After a period of time the wines are slowly tipped upside down working the bottle back and forth until the yeast is in the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen, the cap taken off and the pressure shoots out the slug of frozen yeast and a bit of wine. It is then topped up a bit and dead wood (cork!) is stuck in the end and it is ready to go. The key flavour in the wine is the added bready, biscuity flavours that come from the method of production, although good sparkling wines will also have supporting fruit flavours.

Transfer Method

The final method is known as the Transfer method and is hardly used, although Jacob's Creek sparkling Pinot Noir uses this method. Here we start out as if we are making a wine to the Traditional method. Start with a base wine, add the yeast and the sugar and again the yeast eats the sugar creating alcohol and CO2. Once the yeast has eaten all the sugar it sinks to the bottom, and the wine lies on the dead yeast picking up yeasty flavours. It is in the removal of the dead yeast that this method differs. This time we transfer the wine back to a big tank, let the yeast settle to the bottom and decant the wine off the yeast before bottling. In effect we transfer it back to a tank. Transfer method wines taste yeasty and bready like the Traditional method.

Conclusion: which is best?

Which method is best is, of course, a matter of personal opinion. Many people like the extra richness you get from the yeasty Traditional and Transfer methods, while others prefer the purity of fruit that comes from the Tank method. There is no right or wrong way - they create different wines and which one you enjoy most is down to personal preferences.