Sparklers of a Different Kind

Sparklers of a Different Kind

Independence Day is often celebrated with BBQs, picnics and family gatherings where we enjoy burgers, corn on the cob, potato salad and each others company. And when the sun sets, the celebration begs for something to light up the sky. Sparklers are always a good choice. Their bright sparks, dancing with bursts of effervescence, delight the senses and bring back memories of childhood. Grown ups enjoy sparklers, too. But, we’d prefer ours in a glass. Perhaps that’s why sparkling wines is the fastest growing segment of the wine industry in the United States?


Know What You're Popping

Before popping that next bottle, let’s get a little acquainted with sparkling wine. According to the Wine Institute, California consumes the most sparkling wine in the country. It makes sense, considering in 2016 the state had over 300 sparkling wine producers and shipped 11 million cases of the beverage to U.S. markets. That’s a lot of bubbly!  

There are approximately six methods (with variations) for how to craft sparkling wine, when it comes to California, it makes sense to focus on two--the traditional and the tank methods.

Most California sparkling wines are made in the traditional method or style. In French, it’s called the méthode champenoise or classique. Many wineries call their product “sparkling wine” and some even use the Champagne designation. Side note: For a bottle to be labeled “Champagne,” it has to be made using this method and in the Champagne region of France. However, a 100-year-old loophole allows for the designation for some wineries.


The Champagne Methodology

Let’s take a high-level look at both methods. First up, the traditional method, or méthode champenoise. Slightly more expensive of the two, this method is used to produce most champagne. To begin, young wine is first fermented in the barrel. It then goes through a second fermentation with the addition of liqueur de tirage, which is a mixture of sugar and yeast. It’s then bottled with a cap and inverted. The fermenting wine, which results in a sparkling wine, is left for up to six months. The bottles are periodically turned and gently shaken to remove the lees to enhance the complexity of the finished product.As a last step, the inverted bottles are quickly cooled at the neck so that the liquid in the opening freezes. This lets the bottle to be oriented upright so the cap can be removed, the precipitate pushed out, any missing wine is replaced and a proper cork and halter affixed into the bottle. .  

Methodology for Prosecco

Used to produce prosecco, the Charmat method is nearly identical to méthode champenoise, but instead of the second fermentation happening in the bottle, it happens in a large tank. The first method was developed and patented in 1895 by Federico Martinotti of Italy. Then in 1907, French inventor Eugène Charmat refined the method and registered it under an new patent. Now named for the French creator, the method can also be called ceve close or the tank method. As with the traditional method, it requires a young wine to ferment first time in the barrel and then requires a second fermentation to ensure effervescence. But, with this process, the second fermentation happens when the wine is mixed with the sugar and yeast in a stainless steel pressure tank. At this point, when the sugar is converted into alcohol and carbon dioxide, the yeast is filtered out and the resulting sparkling wine is bottled.

At the end of the day, the fourth offers one of the best opportunities to enjoy your favorite sparklers--whether your they light up the night or light up your palate.


Isabella Crisman