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How to Make Sparkling Wine Using the Méthode Ancestrale

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 18, 2020 • 2 min read

The méthode ancestrale sparkling wine production method can be traced back to Limoux, a region in Southwestern France credited with producing the first sparkling wine, Blanquette de Limoux, in 1531. While the monks who pulled it off were likely taking their fermentation cues from the seasons, today’s winemakers must exert far more skill and control to streamline the process.

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What Is the Méthode Ancestrale?

The méthode ancestrale or ancestral method, is the oldest known method of making sparkling wine. The process goes by many names: rurale, gaillacoise, artisanale, pétillant naturel, and in some appellations, like Montlouis-sur-Loire, pétillant originel. This winemaking technique involves bottling wine partway through its primary fermentation to trap carbon dioxide gas in the bottle, creating a gentle, bubbly carbonation.

Many wines made using the ancestral method are sold unfiltered, which leaves them cloudy with some sediment at the bottom of the bottle. Some drinkers like to shake the bottle to homogenize the liquid, while others prefer to carefully pour clear wine off the sediment. Wines made using the méthode ancestrale can be recognized on the shelf by their crown cap, which looks like the cap of a beer bottle.

What Is the Méthode Ancestrale Process?

During the méthode ancestrale, wine is moved from a vat into individual bottles while it is still fermenting, and then sealed under a crown cap. Bubbles are created when carbon dioxide gas, a byproduct of alcoholic fermentation, gets trapped in the wine. The wine is not filtered and no dosage (sugar) is added, which is why pét-nat is considered more “natural” than other sparkling wine styles, all of which require more human intervention in the wine-making process.

Wines made using the méthode ancestrale undergo a single primary fermentation, and are usually lower in alcohol, around 11-12%. The alcohol content is low because ancestral method wine doesn’t go through a secondary fermentation process, which raises alcohol content. These wines often have some sweetness from residual sugar that has not fermented completely, resulting in an unaged wine with a focus on fresh fruit flavors.

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What’s the Difference Between Méthode Ancestrale and Méthode Champenoise?

Méthode ancestrale and méthode champenoise, the traditional method, are two sparkling wine processes that differ slightly. Ancestral method wines go through a single fermentation and are bottled before the fermentation process is completed, producing a wine with a low-alcohol content, gentle carbonation, and muted sweetness. Traditional method wines go through a second fermentation, which raises its alcohol content and creates its signature bubbles and sweet taste.

3 Examples of Wine Made by Using the Méthode Ancestrale

  1. Blanquette de Limoux: The early adopter of the ancestral method is still one of the world’s best examples of the form. In Limoux, the primary grape varieties are Mauzac, Chardonnay, and Chenin blanc, and there are three sparkling appellation d'origine contrôlée (AOC) désignations: Blanquette de Limoux, Blanquette méthode ancestrale, and Crémant de Limoux.
  2. Pétillant-naturel: After a Loire Valley-based boom in the 1990s, pétillant-naturel wines, pét-nat for short, have become more popular as part of the general worldwide trend toward natural wine. Pét-nat is considered both a modern subcategory of ancestral method wines and a shorthand for it; creative new expressions are now found everywhere from Mexico to Vermont, Australia, and beyond.
  3. Bugey Cerdon: This sparkling red wine is popular in the sub-appellation of the Jura region of France: Gamay and Poulsard grapes morph into fizzy, floral, eminently drinkable low-alcohol wines.

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