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The Three Methods for Making Italian Sparkling Wine

How do they get the bubbles in there?

Be honest, it’s a question you’ve asked yourself once or twice while quaffing a glass of Italian sparkling wine. As soon as the wine hits your tongue, you might stop caring about the question. Awash in the glow of your wine, you’re lost to your own senses.

But when you’re finished with the glass, your brain may give you a little reminder…

So seriously…how do they get the bubbles in there?

It’s the great trick of sparkling wine. But we say trick a little inaccurately as there are several methods that a producers may use to give their wine that all-important fizz.

And it’s these methods that we’ll look at in today’s article. Specifically, we’re going to hone in on three of the most popular methods for making sparkling wine.

Method #1 – Traditional

If you’re guessing that this is the method used to make Champagne, you’re absolutely right! The traditional method even received a UNESCO heritage award back in 2015, such is its importance to the history of winemaking.

Of course, Champagne isn’t the only wine that makes use of the traditional method. Cava and Franciacorta wines tend to be made this way too. The traditional method requires the following steps:

  • The wine will complete its first fermentation, after which the winemaker will use a selection of other wines to create a blend. This is also known as a cuvee.
  • The wine gets bottled with some yeast and sugar. It’s then left to undergo a second fermentation. This results in a product that winemakers call the Liqueur de Tirage. During this process, about 1.3% more alcohol volume will be added to the wine. It’s also this process that creates the CO2 required to carbonate the wine, thus give it a fizz.
  • The wines are then further aged on their lees, which are the yeast particles, for a period of time determined by the producer. For example, Champagne must be aged for at least 15 months. The general belief is that more time spent ageing leads to a better wine.
  • The bottle gets set upside down, which forces the dead yeast cells to collect in the bottle’s neck. This is known as riddling.
  • The bottle then undergoes a process called disgorging, during which the sediment gets removed from the bottle. Still upside down, the bottles get placed into a freezing liquid, which results in the dead yeast particles freezing in the neck of the bottle. The producer then pops the crown cap, which leads to the particles escaping the bottle.
  • The producer adds a small mixture of wine and sugar to the bottle before corking and sending it off for sale.

Method #2 – The Tank Method

You had to know that Prosecco would do things a little differently to Champagne. And those differences extend all the way to the specific methods used to make them.

Prosecco makers use the Tank Method to create their sparkling wine. Let’s look at how the steps differ from the Traditional Method.

  • The producer adds a mixture of yeast and sugar to the base wine. This is then placed in a pressure-resistant tank, which is referred to as an autoclave. This comes after the initial fermentation of the base wine.
  • The wine will sit in the tank for about 10 days. During this time, it will complete its second fermentation, often in much less time than sparkling wines made using other methods.
  • The wine is then poured through a special filtering mechanism. This serves the same purpose as the freezing in the Traditional Method. The filters will remove any small bits of sediment, leaving a pure wine in their wake.
  • Following filtering, the wine receives a small dose of sugar to aid in further ageing. This will likely increase the alcohol volume. The wine is then capped/corked and sent out for retail.

Wines made using this method tend to end up tasting fresher than others, likely due to spending less time ageing. They also have a more yeasty taste.

The Tank Method is more affordable and less time-consuming than the Traditional Method. Some argue that this means the wines are also of a lower quality. However, we’ll leave you to be the judge of that!

Method #3 – The Ancestral Method

While the Traditional Method may be the most renowned of the three, the Ancestral Method is believed to be the oldest. It’s used in the production of Jura and Loire sparkling wines and shares some similarities with the Traditional Method.

Let’s dig into the steps:

  • The wine gets placed into a barrel to undergo its first fermentation. However, it is removed about halfway through the process to prevent full fermentation.
  • The wine gets run through a filter to remove any sediment. They are then placed in a separate tank and chilled to 0 degrees Celsius. The wine will stay in this tank for several months at this low temperature to complete fermentation.
  • The wines will then be bottled immediately after completing fermentation. It is this bottling process that creates the CO2 that gives the wine its sparkling qualities.
  • The bottle will then undergo the same riddling and disgorging process as in the Traditional Method before being shipped off.

Some versions of this method use further filtration to serve the same purpose as the riddling and disgorging. 

The Final Word

It’s interesting to see just how sparkling wine production can differ depending on the method that the producer wants to use. And it’s clear that the chosen method also has an effect on the composition of the wine that results.

The big debate is whether it has an effect on the wine’s quality.

We’d lean towards this being a matter of taste. While the Traditional Method may be the most prestigious, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best. After all, with Prosecco regularly outselling Champagne, consumers are clearly talking with their wallets.

Regardless, we just know that summer is the perfect time to enjoy a sparkling wine. 

And we have plenty available, produced using all of these methods, in the Xtrawine store.

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