The ‘Champagne Method’ for sparkling wine
England, you might have heard, produces sparkling wine with the 'traditional Champagne method,’ which is great, but what does it mean?
An initial fermentation happens of grapes that are typically low in sugar and high in acidity. Low sugar, high acidity grapes like cool climates like Champagne and England. This base wine isn’t very nice itself.
Different base wines are then blended together to form what’s known as a cuvée. Different base wines are used for a number of reasons. You can use base wines from different years’ harvests, which helps balance difficult years (these are called non-vintage or NV). Or you can blend base wines across different vines, grapes or sites, which means you can create different flavour profiles based on terroirs or grape variety.
With your cuvée ready, you put them into bottle with some yeast and additional sugar and begin the second fermentation. These are rotated around so that the yeasty residue ends up in the neck of the bottle.
This gives traditional method sparkling wine aromas from the yeast (bread, toast, brioche, etc). This residue is known as the lees (and you’ll see that word in still wines too. This process can last between months and years depending on the winemaker and the wine.
The lees are finally removed in a process called dégorgement, with a final liquid top-up, sometimes with sugar, known as the dosage. The bottles are nicely wrapped, packaged and sent off for you to enjoy.