Although I would like to present to you immediately a beautiful and important news of Perlage Suite, tomorrow I have the History of Enogastronomy exam (do you remember that since I am no longer around as the primary cause of Coronavirus, I enrolled at the University of Gastronomy, specializing in Enology and Viticulture?) and the time available to write is limited ... so I take this opportunity to post an educational article dedicated to the elaboration of the classic method sparkling wine taken from my manual "How to become a Sommelier: all you need to know about wine in one book". My goal is twofold: on the one hand, to explain to the enthusiast how this prestigious is born sparkling wine, on the other hand help theaspiring sommelier in its preparation to overcome the new AIS exam.

Classic method sparkling wine: birth of a legend

Legend has it that quality sparkling wines were born in France around 1670 by the bursar of the Benedictine abbey of Hautvillers, Dom Piérre Perignon. In reality, in the courts of Renaissance and Mannerist Italy, biting wines had been a beloved and abused luxury item for some time, so that some claim the Italian authorship of this type of wine. In reality, the classic method sparkling wine, as we know it today, is the final product of the serendipity of a series of oenological discoveries that took place in every part of Europe between 1500 and 1800.

Classic method sparkling wine: the "recipe" explained in 10 steps

The Classic Method is obtained from second fermentation in the bottle of base wines, plus a succession of meticulous oenological practices.

Step 1: preparation of the base wine

The vines traditionally used (and ideal) to obtain the base wines are chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot bianco and pinot meunier, even if some indigenous vines are now used - sometimes with interesting results. The bunches must not suffer trauma during the harvest and transport to the cellar and for this reason the quality productions favor manual harvesting in small boxes of maximum 20 kg. After selecting the bunches, a soft, fast and progressive pressing is carried out. The must is immediately cooled, collected in stainless steel vats and decanted by gravity in order to eliminate the coarser particles. At this point it is stabilized with a modest dose of sulfur dioxide (I suggest you read: why does wine contain sulphites?) so that it does not oxidize and the yeast load does not become too important. The must undergoes a second racking in a vat where the pied de cuve has been prepared, that is the selection of yeasts that triggers the first alcoholic fermentation and transforms it into base wine. The first fermentation lasts about a month and takes place at a controlled temperature of about 18 ° C.

The base wines obtained are stored at -3 ° C to block oxidative processes. At this point we proceed with the assembly which tends to take place in the spring following the harvest. The blending can take place with base wines of the same vintage, thus giving rise to a Spumante Millesimato (at least 85% of the grapes must come from the same vintage), or with base wines of different vintages, thus giving rise to a Cuvée.

champagne laurent perrier classic method sparkling wine

Step 2: adding the dosage syrup

The dosage syrup, also called liqueur de tirage, is a mixture of wine, cane sugar, yeasts and mineral substances (especially ammonium to promote the development of yeasts) with a 24 g / l of sugar. It is used to start the second fermentation in the bottle.

Step 3: bottling

Immediately after adding the dosage syrup, the wine is bottled. Traditionally these sparkling wines are put in champagnotte, very thick glass bottles of a very dark green color that protect the wine from the terrible oxidative action of light. The bottles are sealed with the traditional stainless steel crown cap which avoids the formation of rust in the humid environment of the cellars. 

Step 4: Second fermentation

The bottles are stacked horizontally in places with a low and constant temperature (10-12 ° C) in the absence of noise, vibrations, light, heat and with a good level of humidity. The yeasts transform the sugar into carbon dioxide and ethyl alcohol and form a series of secondary substances that enrich the sparkling wine with characteristic aromas and flavors. The curiosity is that the yeasts transform all the available sugar in the space of 6 months, and deplete the wine by stealing minerals, proteins and amino acids. After 6 months, autolysis begins, a biological process during which the yeasts will self-destruct and return to the wine, with interest, all the substances they had stolen from it.

Step 5: Aging on the lees

The more time the wine spends in contact with the yeasts, the more it is enriched with aromas and the bubbles become fine and persistent. Refinement can last from a minimum of 10 months to a maximum of 150 months depending on the type of product to be obtained.

classic method sparkling champagne laurent perrier reims

Step 6: Remuage

In the last period of aging on the yeasts the bottles are placed on the pupitre, or particular stands where, with manual rotations that bring the bottles in a vertical position, the detachment of the yeasts takes place which now occupy the neck of the bottle near the cap. Remuage can also take place mechanically in large baskets. To perfect the evolution, the bottles can be kept at the tip for a few months up to a few years.

Step 7: Disgorgement / degorgement

It is the freezing of the neck of the bottle where the yeasts are found through a solution of salts at - 30 ° C. The bottles travel on a conveyor belt first with the cap facing down while the popsicle is formed, then with the cap facing up where the popsicle is expelled due to the internal pressure of the bottle following the uncorking and elimination of the cap. crown.

Step 8: Dosage (Optional)

At the end of the fermentation in the bottle, the sparkling wine has very little sugar because the yeasts have transformed it all (about 0,5 g / liter). At this point the producer can choose whether to add the liqueur d'expédition to the wine, a secret recipe based on aged and / or barreled wine, cane sugar and brandy.

Step 9: Refilling

After dosing, the bottles are topped up with the same wine so that the level is the same in each bottle and the amount of air embedded under the cap is also identical.

Step 10: Capping

The sparkling wine bottle is capped with the characteristic cork mushroom cap (hopefully) imprisoned in a metal cage. which avoids uncorking due to pressure.


Classic Method sparkling wine: how to choose it?

When choosing a sparkling wine, whether it is Classic Method or Charmat Method, one of the fundamental factors is the residual sugar. This not only for the purposes of the combination you want to make, but above all to meet your taste.

Depending on the method of sparkling wine, you will find more wines of one type than another. This arises both from a qualitative discourse (the lower the dosage, the higher the quality of the product), and from “a consumption habit” and from a product purpose that “denies” the first option. In Italy, more generally, there are interesting wines of all types and I invite you to choose freely without stopping at preconceptions based on what you want to drink and the pairing that you need to do!

Types of sparkling wine based on sugar residue:

  • Pas Dosé, Dosage Zero or Brut Nature = Sugar less than 3 g / l;
  • Extra breed = Sugar less than 6 g / l;
  • Dry = Sugar between 6 g / l and 12 g / l;
  • Extra dry = Sugar between 12 g / l and 17 g / l;
  • Sec or Dry = Sugar between 17 g / l and 32 g / l;
  • Demi-sec or Abboccato = Sugar between 32 g / l and 50 g / l;
  • Sweet or Doux = Sugar more than 50 g / l.

Classic Method sparkling wine: how to store it?

I recommend that you store them in the dark and away from heat sources, possibly in an environment that never exceeds 18 ° C even in summer! If you can, keep the bottles horizontally! If the bottle is lying down, the wine wets the cork which remains moist and consequently well adheres to the glass (because it swells when wet). This prevents air from entering and oxidizing the wine and, at the same time, keeps the bubbles intact!

Classic Method sparkling wine: when to drink it?

Classic Method sparkling wines should be drunk within 18-24 months of disgorgement, although obviously there are exceptions. In the case of a perfectly prepared Classic Method sparkling wine that has not aged too many months on the lees (approximately maximum 36/48 months), an ancient disgorgement, even 10 years old, can be extraordinary. 

As always, I hope you enjoyed this article and found it useful.

Now you can continue your preparation in the world of wine by returning to the page of Learning or find some sparkling wines you like in the wine blog section dedicated to champagne & sparkling wines.

Cheers 🤗🥂


PS As always I remind you that you can scroll down the page and leave me a comment to ask me what you want or tell me what you think!

How to become a sommelier

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Everything you need to know about wine in one book. The manual is designed for all aspiring sommeliers, but it is also very useful for "already sommeliers" who want to revise, for winelovers who want to start giving concrete foundations to their passion and for sector operators who want to earn more by learning both managing the cellar of their restaurant and selling the right bottle to their customers.

II Edition: 1 December 2019 - format 16,5 x 24 cm, 430 black and white pages, ISBN 978-88-943070-8-5 [ON SALE]

I Edition: 31 October 2018, format 16,5 x 24 cm, 300 black and white pages - ISBN 978-88-943070-1-6

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COMPLIMENTARY, only for those who buy my book on Perlage Suite, a copy of the First Collector's Edition of my Sparkling Wine Guide "500 Bubbles in 500", cover price € 25,30.

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