Expertise

Sparkling wine styles and how they’re made

Emma Briffett of our Tastings and Events team explains the difference between popular sparkling wines and how they're made.

Sparkling Secrets

How does it get bubbly?

All grape juice is turned into wine in the same way.

The sugars naturally present in the grape juice are eaten by yeast
(ambient in the winery, or added as you would if you were making bread)

The by-products of this reaction is alcohol and CO2

Sugars + yeast = alcohol and CO2

Normally, if you're making still wine you let the CO2 escape into the atmosphere, BUT if you're making fizz you need to trap it.

So what's the best way to trap the bubbles?

There are three ways to ensure that your wine is fizzy:

  • Traditional method – the wine goes through the second fermentation (the one that gives the bubbles) in bottle.
  • Tank fermentation or Charmat method – yes you guessed it, the second fermentation happens in a sealed tank.
  • Carbonation, or pompe byciclette – this is only done for the cheapest wines and so we'll take a pass thank you!

How do you make it?

  • 1st Fermentation
    Base wine (a still wine) created
  • 2nd Fermentation
    Base wine inoculated with sugar and yeast directly into tank. This takes approximately 10 days
  • Filtration
    Wines are sent through a filter to remove the sediment
  • Dosage
    Wines recieve a mixture of sugar and must called ‘dosage’
  • Bottling
    Wines are bottled under intense pressure to retain fizz
  • 1st Fermentation
    Base wine (a still wine) created by blending many vintages and often grape varieties
  • Bottling & 2nd Fermentation
    The liqueur de Tirage (a mixture of yeast and sugar) is added to the bottle to create a second fermentation
  • Ageing
    Wines are aged on dead yeast cells for 9 months to decades depending on the style
  • Riddling
    Bottles are rotated to bring the dead yeast cells to the neck of the bottle - by hand this takes months, a machine can still take several days
  • Disgorging
    The necks of bottles are placed in frozen water, encouraging the dead yeast to pop out under pressure
  • 1st Fermentation
    Wine starts to ferment but is halted mid-way through
  • Pause
    Wines are chilled to around 0°c and kept in tank for several months
  • Bottling & 2nd Fermentation
    Temperature is increased again, and another fermentation occurs - this time Co2 is trapped in the bottle
  • Riddling
    Bottles are rotated to bring the dead yeast cells to the neck of the bottle - by hand this takes months, a machine can still take several days
  • Disgorging
    The necks of the bottles are placed in frozen water, encouraging the dead yeast to pop out under pressure

What's the difference?

The way in which you trap your bubbles affects what kind of flavour you'll get in your finished wine.

  • Traditional method gives you flavours of bread dough and toast and makes the wine taste rich and creamy.
  • Tank fermentation leaves you with a wine with lots of fruit flavours. It's great for sparkling wines which show the character of their base wines such as riesling and muscat and glera – the grape variety used to make Prosecco.

This is the method that produces most of the sparkling wine consumed in the world.

But that's only the start

Whilst the method of production plays a huge role in the flavours in your favourite fizz, so do the grape varieties that are used to make it.

So here's a quick run-down on some of the most classic sparkling wines out there on the market. This list is by no means exhaustive, part of the fun is in going out and discovering new sparkling wines for yourself.

Champagne

  • Can only come from the Champagne region of northern France
  • Is made using the traditional method
  • Grape varieties are most typically a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier
  • If it says 'Blanc de blancs' on the label it's entirely made from chardonnay, conversely 'Blanc de noirs' are only made from pinots noir and meunier
  • Expect to find flavours of lemon, bruised apple, toast, nuts and digestive biscuit

English Sparkling Wine and New World Sparkling Wine

  • Are made in much the same way as Champagne with the same method of production and the same varieties. The key difference is where the grapes are grown which will have subtle differences on the flavours produced.

Cava

  • Traditionally comes from Spain's north-eastern province of Catalunya, although technically Cava can be made anywhere in the country
  • Is made using the traditional method
  • Grape varieties are most typically a blend of indigenous Spanish varieties, parellada, maccabeu and xarel-lo although chardonnay and pinot noir are permitted
  • Expect to find flavours of lemon, stone fruits, pears and apples

Crémant

  • There is a Crémant made in pretty much every region of France in which still wine is produced. They are named after the region in which they are made, for example Crémant de Alsace is made in Alsace, Crémant de Loire is produced in the Loire and so on
  • The grape varieties used tend to be those that are traditionally grown in the area
  • The flavours that you'll find in each crémant are dependent on which grapes have been used to make the wine, so Crémant from Alsace (usually made from pinot blanc or riesling) tends to have flavours of orchard fruits – apples and pears with a creaminess on the finish

Prosecco

  • The UKs favourite bubbly prosecco comes from the Veneto region in Italy's north eastern corner
  • The grape variety used is glera
  • The flavours that you'll find in prosecco are those of melon, peaches, pears and white flowers

Moscato D'Asti

  • Made in the Asti region of northwest Italy
  • Made using the tank method, the difference here is that Moscato d'Asti's bubbles are derived form the first fermentation rather than the second as is the case with Prosecco, this means that at around 5% it is also relatively low in alcohol
  • The grape variety used is muscat (or moscato seeing as we are in Italy!)
  • This is a sweet wine with flavours of peach and white flowers.
  • If you're in need of a little pick-me-up Moscato d'asti is the perfect wine match for a bar of Cadbury's Dairy milk!

Want more on sparkling wine?

Take a look at our illustrated style guides

Emma Briffett

Tastings & Events

Emma Briffett

Tastings & Events co-ordinator Emma joined The Society in 2010. Among her many areas of expertise, Emma has a passion for matching wine with food. Her favourites include ‘steak and kidney pie with a large glass of Cotes-du-Rhône, and I always love a piece of brie with a glass of big, fat, new world chardonnay.’

Related articles

Back to top