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Sparkling Wine 101

As promised, a short course on the difference between wine and sparkling wine.

The amazing thing about sparkling wine is that it still exists because in terms of production, it’s a royal pain! Every time I visit a sparkling wine house I come away amazed that the wines don’t cost more than they do! The thing is that the winemaker has to do virtually everything that’s necessary to make still wine and then add on several steps more. Here’s how it goes:

The short course: 

1. Very tart, low alcohol wine is made, blended and bottled.

2. Yeast and sugar are added to the bottle of wine before it’s sealed, which sets off a second fermentation right there in the bottle. Since the carbon dioxide gas can’t escape, it’s absorbed into the wine, later to be released as bubbles.

3. The best bubblies are aged on the spent yeast cells, which impart a toasty, yeasty character that enthusiasts adore. As the wine ages the bubbles become finer and finer.

4. Finally, the yeast is worked up into the neck of the bottle and removed.

5. Removing the yeast leaves a bit of a deficit, so the wine is topped up with more wine, usually mixed with sugar syrup to balance the high acid. The sweetness of the syrup creates the difference between Brut (dry), Extra Dry (off-dry) and so forth.

6. Final corking. Additional aging, especially for vintage dated Champagne is an option.

For those who want the whole story: Continue reading

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