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Focus On: Traditional Method Sparkling Wine

Traditional Method Fizz…

The weather is fine (shhh don’t jinx it) & there seems to be just a hint of optimism in the air at the moment. Whether that’s cause for celebration or not isn’t for us to decide but over the last couple of weeks there has been a definite little ‘spring’ in our sales of the fizzy stuff. Given this & also given that this week was originally scheduled to be English Wine Week (now moved to the end of June) we have decided to focus this blog post on ‘Traditional Method’ sparkling wine, with a couple of delicious home grown examples chucked in for good measure!

Traditional Method (or méthode traditionelle) is to do with the production of Champagne & other bottle-fermented sparkling wines. It is an official, technical term given to a specific method & process. It’s also sometimes referred to as the ‘Classic Method’ (méthode classique), while it used to be called the ‘Champagne Method’.

Traditional Method means that the sparkling wine in question was bottle-fermented – the wine went through its second fermentation (to produce the bubbles) inside the bottle in which it is sold. Champagne is by far the most famous wine to use the traditional method but we are focusing on some of our favourite non-Champagne sparklers here. Check ‘em out below.

Second Fermentation In Bottle…

Traditional method sparkling wines go through two separate fermentations. The first, which is usually carried out in tank (but could be in cask/oak barrels) creates the base still wine or wines blend dependent. After that the base still wines are blended (a process known as the assemblage), according to the style & quality requirements of the individual producer, & the blended wine is put into bottle along with a mixture of yeast & sugar (called the liqueur de tirage) & then closed with a crown cap.

The bottles are then placed on their side in a cellar environment where the yeast & sugar kick-start a second fermentation inside the bottle, in which additional alcohol (circa 1-2%) & CO2 are created. As the CO2 cannot escape the sealed bottle it is trapped as bubbles in the wine.

Resting ‘Sure-Lie’…

After the second fermentation is complete the wine is left ‘sur lie‘ (resting on its lees – the dead yeast cells in each bottle) for anything from 9 months to several years. Champagne, Cava & many other old world traditional sparkling wine regions have legal minimum ‘sur-lie’ ageing requirements. For example in Champagne it is 15 months for non-vintage Champagne, but in reality many Champagne producers leave their non-vintage wines resting ‘sur lie’ for up to three years or longer.

During this time the proteins, amino acids & other compounds in the dead yeast cells are released & break down. This process is called autolysis & adds complexity & depth to the wines such as the toasty/brioche/freshly baked bread aromas that are often associated with Champagne & other sparkling wines.

Riddling, Disgorging & Dosage…

As few Champagne or Sparkling wine consumer wants to drink a cloudy wine (unless we are talking natural wine, which is a whole different discussion), the next steps are called remuage & disgorgement, i.e. getting the lees out of the bottle. The bottles are carefully turned daily to slowly & homogeneously move the sediment toward the neck of the bottle (this is remuage / riddling). This process was traditionally carried out by hand but today is more often than not automated for efficiency. Once the sediment is neatly collected in the neck of the bottle, it has to be ‘disgorged‘ or removed. This is done by freezing the neck of the bottle in a bath of freezing brine.

Once frozen, the crown cap is removed & the frozen ball of lees sediment literally shoots out, after which the bottle is quickly topped up with a mixture called the ‘liqueur d’expédition or ‘dosage’ – i.e. a mixture of wine & sugar, based on the eventual style of the wine. For example ‘Brut’ style contains between 6g & 15g/l of sugar.
Once the dosage is added the bottle is closed with the requisite mushroom shaped cork, wire muzzle/cage & foil & prepared for release. Though the wines usually rest an additional six or more months so that the dosage is fully integrated before being sold.

‘Champagne Method’…

This method of producing sparkling wine was originally called the ‘Champagne Method,’ until a group of Champagne producers successfully lobbied the EU against its use by non-Champagne producers. As a result traditional method sparkling wines sold in the EU cannot legally use the term Champagne Method on the bottle – instead they use terms like ‘Traditional Method’ or ‘méthode traditionelle’. This EU ruling has largely been accepted by sparkling wine producers globally & not just in the EU, though you do occasionally still see “Champagne Method’ on some sparkling wines made & sold in the United States.

Anyway, here are some of current favourites! Cheers.

 

Dopff Au Moulin ‘Cuvée Julien Brut’ Crémant d’Alsace / France / Alsace / £21.99
Dry & elegant blend of Auxerrois & Pinot Blanc, showing hints of quince & white flowers, fine bubbles with good length & weight. 18 months on lees.

 

Feudi di San Gregorio x Anselme Selosse ‘Dubl’ Brut Spumante / Italy / Campania / £19.99
A fresh & aromatic wine made from 100% Falanghina with notes of crisp apple, peach & floral hints, complemented by rounder notes of apricot. 18 months on lees.

 

Nyetimber Classic Cuvee / England / Sussex / £38.99
Aromas of honey, almond, pastry & baked apple flavours. Very fine & elegant with a great combo of intensity, delicacy & length. 36 months on lees.

 

Balfour Hush Heath Estate ‘Leslie’s Reserve’ / England / Kent / £29.99 
Fresh & vibrant style with an expressive & fruity character of citrus, green apple & a creamy mousse. It has a lovely roundness on the palate. 15 months on lees.

 

Seifried Estate ‘Aotea’ Méthode Traditionelle / New Zealand / Nelson / £25.99 
Citrus, brioche & buttery notes on the nose & the palate is luxurious & generous with full biscuity shortbread notes & a crisp, lasting finish from extended lees ageing.

 

Simonsig ‘Kaapse Vonkel’ Brut / South Africa / Western Cape / £17.99 
The first producer of traditional method in South Africa when launching Kaapse Vonkel in 1971. Citrus & biscuity flavours, with fresh acidity, length & smoothness that rolls on the tongue.

 

Simonsig ‘Kaapse Vonkel’ Brut Rosé / South Africa / Western Cape / £17.99
The first producer of traditional method in South Africa when launching Kaapse Vonkel in 1971. A delicious sparkling rosé with a lovely delicacy, producing a gorgeous soft spritz of bubbles & bright notes of red fruits & summer berries.

 

Jansz ‘Premium Rosé’ / Australia / Tasmania / £19.99 
Tasmania is regarded as the home of Australian fizz & Jansz are one of the very best in the region. Subtle floral nose & a creamy palate of red berries with a refreshing finish.