Sparkling Wine: The Champagne† Method

Producing sparkling wine at home is relatively simple but it does require more steps than regular red or white wine making. During fermentation, yeast consumes sugars in grape juice to create alcohol and carbon dioxide gas (CO2). Normally the CO2 escapes. However, when the wine is sealed in champagne or pressurized bottles the CO2 is captured and carbonates the wine creating the tiny bubbles that make sparkling wine so delightful.

Good choices for quality sparkling wines are fruity, full-bodied whites with lively, but not tart, acidity. Chardonnay and Chardonnay style wines are an excellent choice. People who prefer German style sparkling wine should use Riesling type wines. Pink or rose bubbly can be made from blush wines. The champagne process takes about 4 1/2 monthsand the wine should be aged serveral months before drinking.

Wine Base Preparation

  1. Ferment a 23 Litre premium wine kit in the normal way up to the stabilizing and clearing steps. Do not add the stabilizing add-packs. This is very important because these packages contain enough sulphite and potassium sorbate to prevent the wine from carbonating properly.

  2. At the stabilizing and clearing steps, rack the wine into a sanitized primary fermenter. Dissolve 1/4 teaspoon of Metabisulphite powder in 1/2 cup (125 ml) of cool water and add to the wine. This amount will prevent the wine from oxidizing, but will not hamper yeast during bottle carbonation. Add the fining's following the wine kit instructions. Remember: Do not add the stabilizing add-packs.

  3. Rack your wine back into a clean, sanitized carboy. Wait 10 days.

  4. Observe your wine. When it is clear it's ready to be made into sparkling wine. It does not need to be filtered.

Bottling

  1. Rack the wine from the carboy into a sanitized primary fermenter. Avoid disturbing the sediment. Dissolve 1 3/4 cups (325 ml) of sucrose (white table sugar) in 2 cups (500 mL) of boiling water. Stir thoroughly and gently into wine. Mix well.

  2. Carefully rehydrate one package of Lalvin EC-1118 champagne yeast following these instructions exactly: stir the yeast into 2 oz. (50 mL) of water at 100ºF (40ºC). Wait 5 minutes, then stir yeast thoroughly and gently into wine.

  3. Siphon your wine into 30 clean and sanitized sparkling wine bottles leaving 1 inch (2.5 cm) of head space at the top of each bottle.

    CAUTION! The fermentation process creates tremendous pressure: the bottles must withstand over 90 pounds per square inch. Only proper champagne bottles can be used. Any other type of bottle may not be able to withstand the pressure which could cause serious damage.

  4. If your sparkling wine bottles accept crown caps, cap them now. Otherwise, insert sparkling wine plastic stoppers and wire them down using wire cages and a wire-twisting tool or pliers. Remember, using anything other than a proper sparkling wine bottle could result in shattered bottles.

  5. Store bottles on their sides at 65º - 75ºF (19º - 23ºC) for two months to properly carbonate.

Riddling

After two months, invert the bottles (place them cap down) in wine boxes to allow the yeast sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle. To assist this sediment formation, raise each bottle about 5 cm (2 inches), turn sharply 1/4 turn, then drop back into the box. This is called riddling, and should be repeated once a day for two to three weeks.‡ (When riddling, please wear gloves, long sleeves and eye protection.) The inverted wine should then be aged for approximately two more weeks, until it is completely clear.

Degorging - Step 1: Preparing your dosage (topping wine)

Because the sediment collects in the neck of the bottle you will be able to remove it. This is called degorging. However degorging results in the loss of a small amount of wine so it's necessary to top up bottles to avoid low fill levels and oxidation. For your topping wine choose the same or similar wine base as your sparkling wine base and chill it. You'll need between 2-4 oz. (50-100 ml) per bottle. If you wish to sweeten your sparkling wine dissolve a half cup of sucrose (white table sugar) in every litre of wine used for dosage. Gently warm the dosage wine to help dissolve the sugar. Then chill the sweetened dosage.

Degorging - Step 2: Freezing the yeast deposit

Remove the sparkling wine from its storage box and place it in your freezer upside down. Allow it to chill monitoring the bottles frequently. When ice crystals form in the neck of the bottle it is ready to be degorged. Do not allow the bottles to freeze completely or they will break and spill your wine into the freezer.

Degorging Step 3: Removing the cap (or cork)

This step is best performed outside or in a secure room where the walls, floor and ceiling can easily be washed due to the possible gushing of the carbonated wine.

  1. Remove the bottle from the freezer. Keep it inverted.

  2. While holding the bottle upside down remove the crown cap or undo the wire and slowly, carefully pop the cork. The pressure will free the cork and push the sediment out of the bottle in one step. As it gushes free, cover the neck of the bottle with your thumb and turn it right-side up. You will need to be very quick to avoid losing much wine!

  3. Once the sediment is ejected from the wine, top the bottle with your topping wine. Be careful and try to pour the topping wine down the inside of the bottle to prevent foaming.

  4. Re-cork with a sanitized plastic stopper. Wire down securely. You will have the most success with plastic sparkling wine stoppers. Natural champagne cork stoppers are impossible to insert correctly using hand equipment and can be difficult to extract. They are also very expensive and difficult to find.

Aging and drinking:

Age your wine for at least two months at cellar temperature before trying it. Champagne yeast will re-ferment in cool temperatures over a period of time thus causing the preferred tiny bubbles. Sparkling wine will improve tremendously with age. While it may be tempting to drink it all as soon as it is degorged try keeping back a few bottles for a year or more. You'll be delighted with the results.

† The word "Champagne" is the trademarked name of a wine region in France. The term cannot be used to describe sparkling wine from other countries. However, it is used here to refer to the correct type of bottle, and to the method for making sparkling wine.

‡ If you don't wish to go through the riddling and degorging process you can store the bottles upright in boxes to allow the sediment to collect on the bottom. Chill before serving and pour carefully. Leave at least 1/2 inch of wine in the bottle.