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Champagne tastes: Let’s have a sparkling conversation
By Bold Commerce Collaborator News28 April Champagne tastes: Let’s have a sparkling conversation
Have you ever gone to a party clutching a bottle of Champagne that wasn’t? After all, only well informed people can really taste the difference. But using the word Champagne is, like us, contentious. We can’t use the name Champagne or “Champagne Method” on our bottles, which means you drinkers can’t either.
Contentious Character makes spectacular sparkling wine and, like the rose by any other name, is still bubbly.
All that sparkles is not Champagne
As they say, all Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. The prized Champagne provenance is within the cool climate Champagne region of northeast France near Paris. Winemakers there use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for their "methode champenoise" (Champagne method) where secondary fermentation happens in the same bottle they sell it in.
The whole business is long, expensive, and very rewarding for your taste buds and French vocab:
- Cuvee – ferment the base wine in the usual way and blend with other base wines
- Liqueur de tirage and bottling – combine cuvee with yeast and sugar for a second fermentation and secure bottle with crown caps
- Second fermentation – carbon dioxide cannot escape from the bottle and the yeast dies leaving a residue called lees
- Aging ‘sur lie‘ – wine ages on the lees for up to 3 years to better its texture
- Riddling – set bottles upside down so lees collect in the neck
- Disgorging – Dip bottle necks in frozen liquid, remove crown caps, and out shoots frozen lees
- Liqueur d’expedition – Add a little wine and sugar to fill the bottle completely, then cork and label.
As we can no longer call it method champenoise, it’s rebadged methode traditionelle (traditional method). This is a guarantee of the highest quality sparkling wine.
It’s all in the technique
Not all Australian winemakers use the traditional method to make sparkling wine. But we do have the cool climates and good soil the grapes need to flourish. Moet & Chandon came to Australia in the 1980s and chose Victoria’s Yarra Valley. But smaller regions with high altitudes like Adelaide Hills, Tasmania and Canberra, also produce wonderful sparkling wines.
A cheap technique is the injection method, which in name certainly lacks the appeal of those lovely French words. They simply inject carbon dioxide, in the same way as in soft drinks, and the bubbles quickly go flat. This kind of sparkling wine is cheap but definitely not good enough for Contentious Character.
Another is the Charmat method, used often in Italy for Prosecco, where they carry out secondary fermentation in a tank rather than in the bottle. Wine made with the Charmat method is designed to be drunk while young. Finally, the transfer method is a combination of traditional and Charmat. Winemakers use second bottle fermentation then transfer the sparkling wine into a large tank. Next, the sparkling wine is separated from the lees and bottled under pressure. By now you are wondering which technique we use at Contentious Character.
The sparkle in our eyes
We’ll be looking after your taste buds now, and in around 18 months’ time.
We proudly laid down our first traditional method sparkling 6 months ago. Our base wine is Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The final taste might be toasty and buttery with sharp citrus-fruit flavours! This is the best way to guarantee the highest quality, cold climate sparkling.
Until that is ready in late 2020, we’ll be creating a sparkling Merlot and a sparkling Pinot Noir Chardonnay using the tank method. You can buy this in Spring this year and drink it straightaway. So next time you go to a party, you definitely won’t need to hide the bottle. Or pretend that it’s something it’s not. You can even start a sparkling conversation about the difference in method – and your Champagne tastes.