How to make Sparkling Wine (Champagne)
The process of making sparkling wine is very basic. A secondary fermentation is introduced to the finished wine then bottled allowing CO2 to build up giving the wine a bubbly effect. The most popular wines used for sparkling wine are Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir Blanc. Any wine may be used as long as it is aged well and has the correct acid level.
Described below is the classical method methode champenoise “fermented in the bottle” for making sparkling wine. The best sparkling wines come from quality fruits and ingredients. The four basic steps are as follows.
1). Sugar and yeast are added to a finished wine, then bottled and capped.
2). Fermentation converts the added sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide.
3). The new sparkling wine is aged for a minimum of one year on the lees.
4). After one year bottles are turned upside down and turned frequently causing the lees to fall to the neck of the bottle. The sediment is disgorged and the bottles are topped off with a similar wine then corked with a plastic stopper and wire wrap.
Start off with fermenting your wine completely dry with an alcohol level not exceeding 10 and 11 ½ percent. To high of an alcoholic content will hinder secondary fermentation. Care must also be taken to ensure that sulfite levels are kept to a minimum (less than 25 milligrams per litre) and sorbate is not added.
The acid levels of the wine should be between .7 and .9 percent. This comes from grapes harvested early and grown in a cooler climate.
At this time you will make a cuvee (pronounced q-vay). Introduce to your dry wine a precise amount of inverted sugar and yeast. Additional nutrients are not needed.
Do not exceed 18 grams of sugar per 750ml bottle. (4 grams per litre). Suggest 16 grams per bottle to avoid bottles exploding. Use only quality champagne bottles not wine bottles. The pressure is too great for regular wine bottles and injury may occur.
If your wine still contains sugar before making the cuvee you must subtract that amount from the second introduction of sugar.
To invert sugar take a sample of wine, warm it on the stove and gradually add your sugar. Stir until completely dissolved and maintain warmth for 7 minutes to invert the sugar completely. Cool.
Do not use the same yeast you used in the first fermentation. Each yeasts use up specific nutrients and these nutrients will not be in the wine if the same yeast was previously used. Recommend using Lalvin K1B-V1116 for the primary fermentation and Lalvin EC-1118 for the secondary or any equivalent. Champagne yeast is not a good yeast to use.
Once you have added your inverted sugar and yeast (to a carboy), stir gently and apply an airlock. Within a few hours to a day you should see signs of a secondary fermentation. Tiny bubbles will begin to form around the top of the carboy and/or rising from the wine.
At this time prepare your sparkling wine bottles by washing carefully and if sulfite is used, be sure it is thoroughly rinsed away.
Stir the cuvee and immediately transfer to the bottles. Fill the same as you were bottling wine leaving proper head space. After 10-12 bottles stir the cuvee again to keep all the yeast in suspension. Immediately cap (or cork, however caps are easier to remove later).
You will need a capping tool designed for sparkling wine bottles (due to the extra lip at the top).
Move your bottles to a cool, dark and vibration free area and store on their sides. You may wish to store in boxes and in a cabinet in case bottles explode.
Each week for the next 3 months you will take each bottle and gently rotate/shake to loosen the sediment clinging to the side (currently the bottom) of the bottle. This will help to disperse the yeast and the sediment throughout the bottle. Return to the carton.
As time progresses you will begin to see more and more fine sediment (lees) appear. It is highly suggested that during this time you wear long sleeve shirts, gloves and eye protection. Bottles may explode if the incorrect amount of sugar is in a bottle. Hence the proper measuring and stirring.
After 3 months of weekly bottle maintenance you will extend the procedure to once per month for the remaining 9 months. These times may be advanced but quality will decrease. In France the wine must rest upon the lees for a minimum of one year for it to be called champagne. If you are unsure of the secondary fermentation, take one bottle and carefully open it. If there is a pressure within, your yeasts are working.
Now you will begin the riddling process. This is the time when over several weeks the bottles are placed at a downward angle (or upside down) and every 8 hours (recommended) each bottle is lifted then quickly yet gently snapped forward to loosen the sediment causing them to collect on top of the cap (neck of the bottle). For bottles not scrupulously cleaned it may take several months to get all the sediment to the neck of the bottle.
For large amounts it is suggested that you build or purchase a riddling rack. For smaller quantities upside down in a wine carton will work. You may wish to mark the bottom of the bottles with a little white paint or white out so at each snap/turn the bottles are properly rotated.
Once all the sediment is in the neck of the bottles it is time for disgorging. This is the process where when the cap is removed the sediment plug is expelled leaving your sparkling wine free and clear. After disgorging you will plug and attach wire hoods to each bottle.
Place your bottles in a refrigerator (still upside down) for 24 hours. This will chill all the wine so you loose less CO2 during disgorging. Then place a few bottles in a freezer (the time depends upon your freezer. Mine, 2 hours is perfect but check every 1/2 hr or so as you don't want the entire bottle to freeze, just the lower 2 inches). Too long and too much freezes then expands and you will have a volcano when you pop the cap off.
You can take a wine carton, cut a hole(s) in the bottom the size of the bottle neck, not too large. Insert the champagne bottles upside down thru the holes so the neck extends out the bottom of the carton. Then place in the freezer. Doing this will insulate the main portion of the bottle from freezing and allow the plug to freeze better.
You will see ice crystals forming above the plug (about 1-2 inches). Another option is to create an ice bath for your bottles using cold water, ice and rock salt. (Freezer method works better).
Once the ice plug is formed, remove one bottle and dip the neck of the bottle in some room temperature (not hot) water for just a few seconds to loosen the plug from the glass and wash away the brine solution. With the assistance of a helper point the bottle away from you at a 45 degree angle upwards and remove the cap. Within a few seconds the plug will shoot out (suggest you aim at a box or garbage can and are wearing old clothes). Feel free to ask me why sometime.
Immediately using your other hand place your thumb on top of the bottle to stop and sparkling wine for exiting. If your wine was previously chilled then after a few seconds you can remove your thumb from the bottle. Pass it to your assistant and have them take a cotton swab or their small finger and remove (if any) tiny bits of sediment that didn’t expel during disgorging.
Top off your bottles with a similar wine or a sugar mix to sweeten. If you wish to add a small amount of sulfite when topping off the sparkling wine you can but not necessary.. Typically dry sparkling wines contain 1% to 4% sugar. Mix up your topping off solution ahead of time and chill. Typical syrup contains 375 grams of sugar, 1 gram of sulfite and 700ml of a dry table wine. This will yield approx. 2% sugar and 30 milligrams of sulfite per bottle. You may adjust to your own taste.
Top off with your chilled solution at about a 60 degree angle and let the solution run down the neck of the glass. Leave the same amount of headspace in each bottle and cork with a polyethylene plug, then apply the wire hood. Give the wire tie 7 one-half twists and be sure it's under the bottles lip.
Your sparkling wine is finished and will be ready for consumption and celebration within 4 weeks. Like regular wine, sparkling wine could go thru bottle shock. Wipe off the bottles, label if you like then store in a cool dark area.
Your sparkling wine will not change flavor much over time. Most of the flavor enhancing occurs on the lees during secondary fermentation. Some bottlers will allow their wine to rest upon the lees for up to 10 years.
Note: There is no need for sorbate to be added to your sparkling wine. With two different fermentations the yeasts have eaten up all the nutrients in the wine. There is alcohol, CO2 and high pressure in these bottles making yeast growth impossible. Basically you have created a horrible atmosphere for them to survive.
Other methods to make sparkling wine include forced carbonation and fermentation outside of the bottle in a controlled atmosphere then transferred back into the bottle and corked.
I will post photos as I take them.
Here is a link to a riddling box I made as opposed to a riddling rack.