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Sparkling Wine – What’s in a Bubble?

Sparkling wine is fast becoming one of Ontario’s most exciting wine products.  But not all bubbles are created equal.  Let’s explore this special wine style and find out just what’s in a bubble.

Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wines produced in Ontario vary in quality and style.  These wines include everything from a fresh and fruity style like Prosecco, to a dry and yeasty style made the same way as Champagne.  The most important words to look for on a bottle of VQA sparkling wine are “Traditional Method” or “Charmat Method”.  Words like these refer to  how the bubbles are created.  Knowing the difference will help you pick the style that is right for you—and right for your wallet.

Traditional Method

VQA Traditional Method sparkling wine is not Champagne because it is not created in the Champagne region of France.  However, it can arguably be considered a Champagne-quality product.  To make this style, a still, dry wine is created first.  Next a small portion of ‘liqueur de tirage’ (a solution of wine, sugar, yeast and yeast nutrients) is added. Then, the wine is bottled and sealed with a crown cap. Here, the yeast consumes the sugar.  This fermentation converts the sugar into alcohol and creates carbon dioxide which naturally dissolves into the wine.After a maturation period, the dead yeast cells in the wine are coaxed into the neck of the bottle.  The neck of the bottle is then frozen to capture the cells. The cap is then removed to disgorge the frozen wine containing the yeast cells.  The bottle is topped with ‘liqueur d’expedition’ (a solution of wine and cane sugar).  The wine is completely dry when the disgorging occurs, so the final level of sweetness is determined by the level of sugar in the liqueur d’expedition.

The Bubbles

The bubbles created in the bottle will be small and tightly packed, resulting in a texture that is airy and creamy at the same time.  In the wine, there will also be a signature flavour of bread or yeast, resulting from the yeast cells breaking down in the bottle during the maturation process.  Making Traditional Method sparkling wine is labour intensive and time consuming, and the long maturation process ties up capital costs.  For these reasons, Traditional Method sparkling wines will fetch the highest price of any sparkling wines. It must be noted that because VQA Traditional Method sparkling wines from Ontario lack the name recognition and prestige of Champagne, they can be sold for a much lower price point.

Charmat Method

The Charmat Method is sometimes called “cuvé close”. This less labourious method is a more economical way of creating sparkling wine.  Instead of allowing the fermentation that creates the bubbles to take place in individual bottles, the fermentation is done in bulk in a stainless steel tank.  The dead yeast cells are then filtered out before the wine is bottled under pressure.  Charmat Method wines will contain bubbles that are bigger and clumsier, and there will be no yeasty flavours.  They are renowned for their fresh, fruity flavours, and for their more approachable price points.

Homework!

Dive into the world of Ontario sparkling wines by heading to the source of production with a trip to Niagara wine country.  Niagara Vintage Wine Tours offers educational tours year round.  Whether you’re looking for a bottle of bubbles for a special occasion, or just for a Tuesday night, let Niagara Vintage Wine Tour’s professional wine country guides help you find the bottle that is right for you.  Contact the guest services agents at 1-866-628-5428 or tours@niagaravintagewinetours.com and plan your trip to Niagara wine country today!

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