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How to Make Sparkling Wine Using the Méthode Champenoise

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jun 16, 2020 • 2 min read

Sparkling wine gets its signature bubbles from a technique that winemakers call the méthode champenoise: a traditional, labor-intensive bottle fermentation.

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What Is the Méthode Champenoise?

Méthode champenoise, also know as the traditional method, is a sparkling wine production method whereby wine undergoes a second fermentation process in the bottle to produce carbon dioxide—the engine behind that soft, bubbly mouthfeel in sparkling wine and Champagne. Méthode champenoise originated in the Champagne region of France.

What Is the Méthode Champenoise Process?

The entire secondary fermentation process takes about two full weeks.

  1. Tirage: First, the grapes are harvested, pressed (in a process referred to as la cuvée), and the resulting grape must is transformed into alcohol through one round of fermentation. The winemaker then adds a mixture of sugar and yeast cells called liqueur de tirage to the still wine.
  2. Bottling: Next, the base wine is decanted into bottles and fitted first with a crown cap like a bottle of beer (not a cork). The bottles are then racked horizontally in pupitres, or wooden racks.
  3. Riddling, or remuage: Developed in the 1800s by Madame Clicquot, riddling refers to the daily quarter-turn the racked wines receive in order to unsettle and rotate the sediment—a cloudy byproduct of yeast called lees—in the bottle.
  4. Disgorgement, or dégorgement: In the final phase, bottles are flipped upside down, to encourage the lees to settle in the neck of the bottle. Disgorging allows the winemaker to remove the lees after its job is done, without sacrificing the pristine sparkling wine left behind: Most do this by freezing only the neck, and quickly extracting the solids.
  5. Dosage, or liqueur d'expédition: With the lees removed, the bottles are in need of a small top-off. This is referred to as the dosage, a mixture of sugar diluted in wine. Levels of dosage influence both the dryness and/or sweetness on the palate. Some winemakers prefer to skip this step entirely.
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4 Wines Made Using the Méthode Champenoise

  1. Blanc de blancs: Blanc de blancs refers to a Champagne made entirely from white grapes, usually Chardonnay.
  2. Blanc de noirs: Blanc de noirs, which means “white wine from red grapes,” refers to Champagne made entirely from red grapes, usually pinot noir.
  3. Brut: Brut is a dry, “raw” style of Champagne that receives a very small dose of sugar, or dosage, in the disgorgement process. “Brut nature” refers to no added sweetness.
  4. Crémant: Crémant refers to wines made in the same style of Champagne, but from outside of the official region.

What Is the Difference Between Méthode Champenoise and Méthode Traditionnelle?

The European Union has restricted the use of the term méthode champenoise, which solely refers to wine made in the Champagne region of France using the technique. Wines made outside of the Champagne region using méthode champenoise must instead use the terms méthode classique, méthode traditionnelle, or its local equivalent. In the production of Spanish cava and Portuguese espumante, it’s referred to as método tradicional; in Italy, metodo classico; in Germany, klassische Flaschengärung.

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