Bottle-fermented sparkling wine from Italy

Do you know what this man here is doing?

He’s riddling the bottles. Only Champagne, Franciacorta and Trentodoc undergo this process – these sparkling wines are produced according to the «méthode traditionelle». During the second fermentation, CO2 develops in the bottle when yeast and sugar are added to the wine, which is already fermented but not yet fizzy. The bottle is then tightly sealed with a crown cork. As the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol, it also produces CO2, which cannot escape. When all the sugar has been converted, the yeast dies off and the sparkling wine ages «sur lie» – in contact with the yeast – which affords the wine its typical notes of brioche.

But there’s a problem. How do you get the yeast residues out again? To ensure the sediment collects in the bottleneck, the bottles are placed in boards with holes in them, as shown here at Ferrari, a Trentodoc producer. This is called a riddling rack, and every day the bottles are gently turned and tilted downwards at increasing angles. After the weeks-long riddling process, the bottlenecks are placed in ice baths to freeze the yeast. Once the crown cork is removed, the frozen yeast plug is ejected from the bottle under pressure. The industry term for this is disgorgement. The loss of liquid is balanced out by what we call dosage. This is what determines whether the wine is a brut or sec, and decisively shapes the flavour profile. What’s the exact composition of this wine or sugar solution, you ask? That’s one of the best kept secrets of every sparkling wine maker.

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