Come quickly, brothers! I'm drinking stars!
Dom Pierre Pérignon (1638-1715) was a Benedictine monk who is credited with the invention of Champagne at the abbey of Hautvelliers in the Champagne region of France. Apparently, he had already discovered that some wines produced bubbles when stored during the winter, which he associated with a second fermentation, but he did not know how to maintain the bubbles until he observed how some pilgrims covered their water wineskins with corks, an idea he decided to adopt so that the second fermentation would take place inside a closed bottle. It was not until 1816 that Madame Clicquot decided to place the bottles in a vertical position on tables with holes designed for this purpose in which the problem of eliminating the lees was solved by the simple procedure of removing the cork with the lees sedimented on it, emptying part of the bottle, and replacing the cork with a new one.
Sparkling wine is often associated with celebrations and parties of all kinds. Its festive character is associated with the presence of CO2 bubbles dissolved in it, which give it a spicy, acidic and refreshing touch. These same bubbles act as an indicator of the quality of the wine and, by extension, of the production process used for it.
The traditional method, called Champenoise, involves a second fermentation in closed bottles by active yeasts from a base wine containing a sufficient quantity of residual sugars. The CO2 produced, having no way of escaping from the bottle, dissolves in the wine giving it a characteristic acidity.
Originally white grapes such as Chardonnay or red varieties such as Pinot Noir from the Champagne region were used, but there are no restrictions in this respect, and other local varieties are also used: Xarelo, Riesling, Moscatel, Cabernet, Sauvignon Blanc… Varieties all capable of providing good acidity and alcoholic strength capable of producing a good base wine on which to carry out the second fermentation.
The process starts on a finished wine (the base wine) to which a mixture of sugar and yeasts is added on the same base wine called ‘liqueur de tirage’, which raises the sugar concentration above 20-30 g/L. After addition, the bottle is capped and stored in a slightly tilted position and in suitable temperature conditions for the yeasts to begin to act. The time of action of the yeasts is variable (the minimum is 9 months), and can reach up to several years: the longer the wine is in contact with the lees, the greater the complexity it will reach due to the release of amines, mannoproteins and amino acids. During this process, the alcohol content of the base wine will increase slightly (between 1 and 2 degrees) and the CO2 formed will dissolve in the wine.
After the time set by the winemaker, the wine is ‘clarified’ by removing the lees from the bottle. To do this, they are placed on special shelves that produce a moderate inclination of the bottle, so that, with skillful turns, the lees are deposited in contact with the cork. This is the moment of ‘disgorging’, in which the cork is frozen in a brine and quickly uncorked: the frozen lees together with the cork and a small part of the liquid shoot out due to the effect of the internal gas pressure. The lost liquid is replaced with the ‘liqueur d’expedition’, the winemaker’s last chance to add his particular touch to the product.