Is sparkling wine really wine?

Answered by Phillip Nicastro

Sparkling wine is indeed a type of wine, but it is unique in that it undergoes a secondary fermentation process to create carbonation. While still wine is typically flat, sparkling wine is effervescent and bubbly, giving it a distinct character.

The process of making sparkling wine starts with the same basic steps as still wine. Grapes are harvested and pressed to extract the juice, which is then fermented with yeast to convert the sugars into alcohol. However, the fermentation for sparkling wine is slightly different.

After the initial fermentation, the winemaker adds a mixture of sugar and yeast, known as the dosage, to the base wine. The wine is then bottled and sealed with a crown cap or cork. As the added yeast consumes the sugar, it produces alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Since the bottle is sealed, the gas is trapped and dissolves into the wine, creating the bubbles we associate with sparkling wine.

This secondary fermentation can take place in two different ways: the traditional method and the Charmat method. In the traditional method, also known as the méthode champenoise, the secondary fermentation occurs in the individual bottles. The wine is aged on the lees (dead yeast cells) for an extended period, which adds complexity and richness to the final product. The lees are eventually removed through a process called riddling, where the bottles are gradually tilted and rotated to collect the sediment in the neck, which is then disgorged before the final cork is inserted.

In the Charmat method, the secondary fermentation takes place in large, pressurized tanks instead of individual bottles. This method is often used for producing sparkling wines in larger quantities, as it is more cost-effective and allows for faster production. The wine is then filtered and bottled under pressure, capturing the carbonation.

So, while sparkling wine goes through a similar fermentation process as still wine, it has the added step of trapping the resulting carbon dioxide to create its signature bubbles. This distinction sets it apart from other types of wine.

Personal experience:
I have had the opportunity to visit several wineries and witness the production of sparkling wine firsthand. It was fascinating to see the meticulous care and attention to detail that goes into creating these effervescent delights. From the hand-picked grapes to the precise dosage calculations, every step of the process is carefully executed to ensure the quality of the final product.

One particular winery I visited used the traditional method for their sparkling wine production. The cellar was filled with rows of bottles stacked horizontally, undergoing the aging process on the lees. The winemaker explained the importance of riddling and disgorging to remove the sediment and achieve the desired clarity and taste.

Another winery I visited employed the Charmat method for their sparkling wine production. The large tanks filled with fermenting wine were an impressive sight, and the winemaker highlighted the efficiency and consistency this method offers.

These personal experiences have deepened my appreciation for sparkling wine as a unique category within the world of wine. The craftsmanship and attention to detail required to produce these bubbles make them truly special and distinct from still wine.

To summarize, sparkling wine is indeed a type of wine, but it undergoes a secondary fermentation process to create carbonation. The traditional method and Charmat method are the two primary techniques used for this secondary fermentation. The resulting bubbles make sparkling wine stand out from still wine, giving it a distinct character and appeal.