Know Your Sip Series: Sparkling Wine

Hi hi hi, welcome to another riveting segment of the Know Your Sip Series, the sparkling wine edition! 

And I’m your wonderful, amazing, awesome and most importantly, humble host, Hannah.

So, maybe it’s because I got the flu on New Years Eve (for the SECOND YEAR IN A ROW) and I didn’t get my fix, but lately I’ve been on a sparkling wine kick. I know that most people are like “I reserve bubbly for celebrations, yadda yadda”, but I am not most people. And I also thoroughly believe that every day is a celebration (as discussed here), so it’s time to drink up!

Because sparkling wine is so popular nowadays- shoutout to mimosa brunches- I thought that I would take this time to give a brief education on things sparkling wine. Now because this is a website called “My Pour Decisions”, not “The Wine Expert In Everything Ever”, I’ll make this post short, sweet and to the point so we can all go back to drinking.

What kind of grapes is sparkling wine made from?

Sparkle grapes.

Okay, not really. Though that would be cool if those existed. Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay are the most common grapes in traditional sparkling wine/Champagne.

How does it get those bubbles?

So this is where things get a little more complicated.

Sparkling wine starts out as a base wine (essentially a dry wine with no vintage necessarily), which means it has undergone the first round of fermentation. After that, the two most common ways to have the wines undergo a second fermentation is through the bottle (traditional method) or through a tank.

For both methods, sugar and yeast are added into the wine before the second fermentation. One of the many differences is that, obviously, bottle method means separating the wine by bottle, whereas tank combines it all into one giant tank. After that, the tank/bottle is closed tightly or capped.

The second fermentation takes place in the closed container- either bottle or tank. This process increases the alcohol percentage and creates CO2. Because the CO2 is trapped, it creates a pressurized carbonation (read: BUBBLES).

The traditional method requires the bottles to age on their lees for a bit. What’s the lees? Well, Lee is my middle name (coincidence? I think, yeah, probably) and also the remaining yeast particles. The lees develop texture in the wine and also provide a separation between my first and last name. Okay, I’ll stop.

MOVING ON, it ages on those lees for a long time, depending on the wine. Anywhere from 9-15 months, with the higher end Champagne being on the 15 month timeline. After that time, the bottles are tilted downward and rotated frequently in order to slide the lees into the bottle neck. This process is called “Riddling.”

An old-school french riddling wine rack. They put the bottles top down and turn frequently to keep the lees moving towards the opening.

After all the lees have been accounted for, the bottle is put into freezing liquid. The bottle is opened and lees come out in a weird looking ice cube. Don’t put that in your drink, please god.

Meanwhile, the tank method, has it easy peezy. The wine sits in the tank for a few days and then it goes through filtering to remove the sediment. I am the tank method of human beings.

After this process, Exposition liqueur- aka, wine and sugar combined (my boyfriend’s worst nightmare)- are put into the wine, it’s capped, it’s labelled, it’s on your brunch table.

If that wasn’t enough information, check out the bible Wine Folly.

Opening Sparkling Wine

I have seen some tramautic YouTube videos in my day, but none make me laugh hurt me like watching someone fudge up opening a bottle of sparkling.

Let’s discuss, for your safety.

When opening a bottle of sparkling you:

  • Undo the metal cork cover slowly. Take off and put your hand BACK ON TOP OF THE CORK. There is pressure in that bottle still and that cork can and will shoot off if you do not hold it down.
  • Grab onto the cork and the bottle by the base. I usually rest the bottle on my leg too, because I have strong legs. I’ve been working out, thanks for noticing.
  • Twist the bottle slowly, hold the bottle tightly and pull out slowly.

DO NOT AIM THE BOTTLE TOWARD YOUR FACE, MY FACE, GLASS, OR YOUR DOG. Those things really hurt.

So, what are my favorite sparkling wines?

Of course, I only sip the finest Dom Pérignon. *chokes on my own lie*

Mumm Napa Brut Prestige– $24

Mumm Napa makes some pretty delicious sparkling wines, but their classic Brut Prestige is my favorite. It’s reasonably priced for a wine that has a high quality taste. It’s a great wine to bring to a party because you’re not crying when it’s gone, but it’s also not Cook’s (shoutout to college.) Mumm Napa is also a fun place to visit when you get into Napa. They have dozens of sparkling wines you don’t see in stores that are awesome.

Domaine Carneros Ultra Brut– $45

Not only is Domaine Carneros one of my favorite wineries in California (read about that, here), it also produces one of my favorite wines ever, the Ultra Brut. The ultra brut is a pretty rare way to make sparkling and it’s dry and crisp. Unfortunately, it’s a winery exclusive so I have to purchase whenever I visit or online. But I say this seriously, run, don’t walk to Domaine Carneros.

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Champagne– $57

This is my payday Champagne. And yes, it’s Champagne, because the grapes are sourced from the Champagne region in France (anything besides that is just sparkling, unless it’s something like Cava or Prosecco. You get it.) Veuve Clicquot is a delicious blend that has a bit of an oaky taste (like vanilla or toasted almonds) and I loooooove it. It pairs amazing with salmon or, if you’re ballin’ on a budget like me, popcorn!

SOOOOO, that’s it!

I hope you enjoyed this “Know Your Sip” series, and I’ll be sure to post another one real, real soon. Hope y’all pop a few bottles with as little injury as possible this week. Happy pour decision making!