Sparkling wines are something that Niagara does exceptionally well, due to our cool climate, and limestone rich soils. While one may think that all sparkling wines are created equal, the method that they are produced can vary greatly. There are three main styles of sparkling wine here in Niagara, methode traditionelle (traditional method), method cuve close (charmat method) and pét-nat. We will briefly go over the production and typical notes one might find on a wine from each style!
Method Cuve Close
Method Cuve Close is becoming more and more common in Niagara. typically these will produce wines that are light, clean across the palette, and generally more fruit forward. The production of this style of sparkling starts with being fermented (typically) in stainless steel tanks. During fermentation, yeast is added to convert sugars into alcohol and CO2. During this fermentation, CO2 is released from the tank, and only alcohol is absorbed by the wine. For this wine to gain carbonation, it will undergo secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks again. In this fermentation, small amounts of yeast and sugar are added to the wine (a process called tirage), and the tank is sealed, allowing any CO2 created to be dissolved into the wine. The wine is then filtered and bottled.
Photo: FRESH Sparkling Rosé, one of many sparkling wines found at Lakeview Wine Co.
Methode Traditionelle starts the same as cuve close, with the wine being fermented in stainless steel tanks. This base wine will then be filled into individual bottles (that the wine will eventually be sold in) where additional yeast and sugar is added so the secondary fermentation can happen in bottle. This wine will then be sealed, typically with either steel bottle caps, or rubber plugs, and laid to rest 'sur lee' for a long period of time. This aging process can be anywhere between 9 months and 12 years, or longer. Longer time aging on the yeast cells will produce wines with more bready, toasty notes to the wine. The bottles will then be riddled (rotated and tipped until upside down), and the necks will be frozen, the cap is removed and the sediment is forced out of the bottle (disgorged). the bottles will then be closed (typically with cork, wire cage, and foil) and ready to enjoy.
Photo: Sparkling wines in riddling boards before being disgorged
Pét-Nat wines are some of the most interesting and hard to find wines in the area. While they follow a similar path to methode traditionelle sparkling wines, the end product is completely different. The wine starts its primary fermentation in tanks, and then is moved into bottles while the first fermentation is still underway. The wine is still mixed with the yeast, resulting in a more cloudy, and textured sparkling wine. The wine is not disgorged, and is enjoyed with sediment and yeast cells intermixed within the wine.
As we can see, sparkling wines come in many different styles! Have you tried them all?