Champagne and Sparkling Wine Differences - THEGRAPE

How Are Champagne and Sparkling Wine Made?

Ah, the allure of sparkling wines… the pop of a cork; the glistening shade of colors; the diamond-like bubbles that rising to the top of the glass, then evaporating into thin air; all mixed with inviting aromas and flavors for all tastes and styles. Seriously, what’s not to love? So how are Champagne and sparkling wine made?

Believe it or not, sparkling wines are made from the same grape varietals used to produce wines sans bulles (without bubbles). In fact, most sparkling wines are made from a blend of several different grapes, vintages and vineyards. Varietals used to create sparkling wines include:

 

White Grapes: Chardonnay, Grüner Vetliner, Pinot Blanc, and Riesling.

Red Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and even Shiraz/Syrah

 

There are however, some sparkling wines that are made from a single varietal – one example of this is a Blanc de Blanc (white of whites), which is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes.

There are a number of similarities in both the Viticultural and winemaking processes used to produce traditional and sparkling wines, along with some differences. For starters, the grapes used for sparkling wines are harvested earlier, when they have higher levels of acidity. Attention to detail is also vital during the harvest. This means the winemaker walks through the vineyard and picks the grapes by hand. The reason… to avoid the possibility of phenolic compounds as well as tannins from tainting the wine’s flavor and color.

 

Did You Know??? Red Pinot Noir grapes also produce white and light sparkling wines. How you ask? Well, the juice from this red grape is initially clear and when it comes into contact with other varietals or the skins, its color alters to either a rose, or a darker shade – of course this all depends on how long the winemaker leaves the grape skins in contact with the grape juice.

Like most wines, sparkling wines go through stages of fermentation. But, it’s during the second fermentation where a sparkling wine obtains its bubbly personality. When small amounts of sugar and yeast are combined and added to the still wine they transform into carbon dioxide. Throw in some alcohol and the process has begun. This is when the millions of tiny bubbles are created! The two most common methods for making sparkling wines are as follows:

 

The Traditional Champagne Method: This process requires a bit more finesse and wine making expertise, especially since the second fermentation takes place in the actual wine bottle.

Traditional Winemaking - Champagne Lees - THEGRAPE

Traditional Winemaking Techniques – Champagne Lees

 

The Charmat Method: In this process the second fermentation takes place in pressurized stainless steel tanks and involves injecting CO2 directly into the wine.

Champagne Charmat Method Using Stainless Steel Barrels - THEGRAPE

Champagne Charmat Method Using Stainless Steel Barrels

 

Some say, you can tell the difference in taste between the two methods. The Champagne Method’s bubbles are said to last longer and have a bit more pizzazz (or twinkling feeling in your mouth), while the Charmat Method’s bubbles tend to go flat rather quickly.

Now you know the differences and similarities of the types of sparkling wine versus traditional (flat) table wine. They both use the same grapes, however sparkling wines are generally made from a combination of different varietals, from different vineyards and different vintages. The personality of their bubbles may be reflected by the method used during the second fermentation process. Regardless of the fermentation method used, sparkling wines are a refreshing treat and a fun spirit to enjoy on any occasion. We hope this article was helpful and if you have any thoughts or experiences you’d like to share post your comments below. Cheers!

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