Glass Top, Beaumont Liger-Belair Polidori – Odile Jacob, 2011
Let us begin with the British scientist, polymath, physician, and co-founder of the Royal Society, Christopher Merret. This is a man who made a life of studying, categorizing, and documenting things that exist in the millions, like the birds and butterflies of England. In 1662, he presented the Royal Society with a paper called “Some Observations Concerning the Ordering of Wines”. In his writing, he describes the intentional usage of sugar to create fizz: “Our Wine-coopers of latter times use vast quantities of Sugar and Melosses [molasses] to all sorts of Wines, to make them drink brisk [frothy] and sparkling.” This documentation came years before the monk Dom Pérignon began experimenting with the very same method in Champagne, France. Like watching a flock of birds take across the sky, bubbles can hold a similar curiosity that makes you stop and stare. They have an invisible force propelling them. To then taste the effervescence keeps the palate light and lively so that you can taste whatever new bite of food is on your fork. More than just an aid to celebration, sparkling wine is also an excellent everyday beverage, pairing perfectly with so many different foods, moods and occasions.
For January, we propose an approach to bubbles as if it were a species. This is a chance to experience wine as a scientist and find the importance in distinctions. As old as wine itself, sparkling wines have a number of styles to know about: sparkling white/red/orange/rose, sweet sparkling, dry sparkling, bone dry sparkling, light body and full body. Additionally, there are several different ways of producing sparkling wines, each of them creating a product with unique characteristics. While they all may look the same from a distance, we hope to show you their versatility and their range of characteristics by starting with the two bottles provided. This month, keep a pencil close by to your bottle. You might be the one who makes a new discovery!
Soap Bubbles, Jean Siméon Chardin, ca. 1733–34
The bubbles in your glass are a result of yeast eating sugar and creating carbon dioxide. This not only affects the number of bubbles made but also the size of the bubbles. Depending on how much carbon dioxide has dissolved in the wine will vary the size of the bubbles: less CO2 = smaller bubbles, more CO2= larger bubbles. However, over time carbon dioxide leaks through the pores of the cork or through the sides of the cap therefore decreasing the level of CO2 in your wine and decreasing the bubble size. Champagne often has small bubbles due to a long second fermentation time. This in turn, has created the popular idea that smaller bubbles are better.
Broc Cellars, Sparkling Chenin Blanc 2021
USA, California Paso Robles
Chenin Blanc is an incredibly versatile variety, capable of producing wines that are lean, fresh and light, as well as oak-aged, creamy and even sweet. In this bottle, the Chenin Blanc and Muscat were fermented until dry. Then, Chardonnay must was added and the wine was bottled. A second fermentation occurred in the bottle providing all those bubbles. The wine was disgorged by hand and then capped. Chris Brockway has been making wine in California since 2002 and has been at the forefront of the changing wine scene there. Because of winemakers like Chris, many California producers are making fresher style wines that are lower in alcohol, made with organic farming practices, and are more affordable.
You’ll notice the lack of a classic champagne cork on this wine. The development of the perfect seal for sparkling wines is ongoing. It was cork that became the first successful stopper for bubbly bottles back in the 18th century. The corks were tied down with twine. But bubbles of this nature have power to build pressure and would often shoot the corks out or break through the glass. As glass strength improved, and wire mesh housing came along, the production of sparkling wine became safer and more manageable. The crown cap on the Broc Cellars wine is a modern effective seal that makes the wine inside more readily accessible.
Bubbles, Helen Levitt, 1942
Brand Brothers, Pet-Nat Rosé
The young brothers Daniel and Jonas Brand took over the family estate in 2011 and are part of a group in the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Franken regions of Germany that are turning away from conventional farming and the sins of the 1960s and 70s. They have converted all of their vineyard work to organic and were certified with vintage 2017. They are also working biodynamically planting clover and raising chickens to contribute to the ecosystem of the vineyard. All fermentations use indigenous yeast and low levels of sulfur are used when possible. This rosè is made mostly from Pinot Noir with a dash of another variety called Portugieser. Made in the ancestral method, the finished wine is lean, zesty and light. Pinot Noir produces lighter colored wines that can have an almost haunting nuance to them, even when crafted into some rosè bubbly.
Production of Pet-Nat wines goes as far back as the 1500s, but it was unintentional at first. It was discovered that some sealed wines had re-fermented in their bottles. This most likely occurred because the wine had never completed the initial fermentation. Before we had temperature control, if the weather turned and temperatures dropped, fermentation could cease. The producer might think that the wine had completed fermentation and the wine would have then been bottled at this stage. When the weather warmed again, the yeast woke up and reactivated fermentation. This is basically how the wine is made even today. The simplicity of production allows for a joyous spirit to fill each bottle, and the fizz is the evidence.
Side, Beaumont Liger-Belair ,Polidori – Odile Jacob, 2011
TYPES OF SPARKLING WINE
Petillant-Naturale (or Method Ancestral)
This is possibly the oldest known method for producing sparkling wines, and also (not surprisingly) the simplest. When a wine is being made, before it has completed its initial fermentation, the wine is put into a bottle and the bottle is capped. The wine continues to ferment within the bottle, and the carbon dioxide produced from the yeast eating up the remaining sugars remains trapped in the bottle. This leads to the wonderful fizz factor. The intensity of the bubbles can vary but Pet-nat wines tend to be slightly less fizzy than Prosecco, Cava or Champagne.
Pet-Nat wines are currently back in fashion. More producers from more regions are making Pet-Nats because they are less labor intensive and costly to make when compared to other types of sparkling wines. Additionally, Pet-Nat wines have found a connection to the current natural wine movement happening in regions around the world. There is no requirement that a pet-nat be organic or use biodynamic farming practices, but they often do.
Traditional Method or Champagne Method
Here is how some of the world's most celebrated sparkling (Champagne, Vouvray, Cava) wines are produced. It is a complex process that can take a considerable amount of time. To make a wine in the Traditional Method involves taking a completely fermented still wine and putting it into a bottle. Then, an addition of yeast and sugar are added to that bottle and the cap is put on. A second fermentation begins in the bottle and the bottle is aged with the yeast for anywhere between 9 months and 5 years.
When ready, the dead yeast are expelled from the bottle in a process known as disgorging. Finally, some wine and sugar are added back to the bottle, and then the bottle is corked.
While this is a labor intensive process, the traditional method can produce bottles that age for several years, gaining in complexity. There are producers around the world making excellent examples of this style of sparkling wine. While the region of Champagne in France continues to hold the title of producing some of the most expensive expressions of bubbles, other regions are on the rise for their high quality examples including New York State, California, England, Portugal and South Africa.
Charmat Method or Tank Method
The Charmat method is used to create Prosecco. To do this, a still wine is put into a large pressurized tank, along with a dosage of yeast and sugar. The second fermentation occurs in the tank over a period of about 10 days. The wine is then filtered, and an adjustment of sugar to match the intended style is added and then the wines are bottled.
The quality of bubbles in Prosecco are large and lively. This is a very well known style of sparkling wine that also tends to be quite affordable.
Our aim is to give a glimpse into the many roles wine has played throughout history. All subjects mentioned deserve more attention and research and we encourage you to keep exploring. We are only here to pop the cork.
Many Thanks, Caravan Wine Shop