Millions of Disco Balls in My Wine

What's in YOUR Sparkling Wine?

We had much to celebrate at my Sparkling Wine Tasting Class on PLATEBavette 33aDecember 17. The holidays, babies, my return to teaching wine classes, and my first class at my sister's new restaurant, Bavette in Milwaukee's Third Ward.

We often associate bubbly wine with celebration, but why? Perhaps it has something to do with a small region in the north of France called Champagne. That's right, Champagne is a region and a sparkling wine. This region is not only home to the King of all sparkling wines, but also to several French King's first moments on the throne, as Champagne was the coronation site of French kings for over 1,000 years. Hmmm, I wonder what they were drinking at those lavish soirees?

Or perhaps we connotate celebration with sparkling wine because of all those bubbles, 50 million per bottle, to be exact. Those glittery, vivacious bubbles remind me of tiny little disco balls. On Tuesday, we consumed around 800 million of those miniature "disco balls". Now, that's a "good time" in a bottle!

So, how do those little "disco balls" get into a bottle of wine?Champagne

First, we must digress to the fundamental premise of winemaking; live yeast consumes grape sugar, yielding alcohol... and carbon dioxide. All eight wines at my class had begun their vinous life as still wines, void of bubbles, because the first, or primary, fermentation had occurred in an open container. All carbon dioxide dissipated into the air.

The wines then underwent a secondary fermentation. More sugar and yeast were added to the still base wines, but this time the fermentation occurred in a closed vessel. The carbon dioxide had nowhere to go but back into the wines, and, voila, the wines now "sparkled" with bubbles.

I used the first two wines of the night, a Cava from Spain and a Prosecco from Italy, to demonstrate the two major ways wines are made sparkling.

Cava uses the same method used in Champagne, known as the TRADITIONAL METHOD around the world. In this process, the secondary fermentation happens in the bottle that is sold to you. A small amount of yeast and sugar is added to each bottle of still wine. That means there are literally thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, little "fermentation tanks" in every sparkling wine house using the TRADITIONAL METHOD.

Prosecco, on the other hand is the poster child for the TANK METHOD, whereby the secondary fermentation happens in a large tank. After sugar and yeast are added to the still base wine, the tank is sealed and bubbles are created in larger volumes. The wine is then bottled under pressure to maintain its effervescence.

As you may suspect, the TRADITIONAL METHOD requires more care, space and money than the TANK METHOD. As such, traditional method sparkling wines are usually higher quality and more expensive than tank method wines... and yet, the wine world is full of enigmas.  Cavas available in the US and Proseccos are usually of comparable quality.

The Cava and Prosecco we tried were both about $20 and of similar quality. What's more, about half the class preferred the lesser expensive, more fruit-forward Cavas and Proseccos to the toastier, more minerally... and much more expensive Champagnes. Which style and/or price point do you think you would have preferred? Join us for our next tasting or check out our list of wines below and let us know your thoughts on our facebook page or twitter.

Txacoli photoIf you like Cava, come on our Spanish wine tour in October 2014, where we will drinking A LOT of Cava and other fabulous Spanish wines.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Below are a few of the favorites from our tasting. Wines available at Bavette La Boucherie. Limited supplies. Please call ahead to ensure availability.(414)273-3375

Les Mestres Reserva 1312 Cava, Spain $19
Fantinel Sparkling Rose, Italy $18
Bertrand Ambroise Cremant, Burgundy $28
Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs, Champagne $59
Gonet Medeville Blanc de Noirs, Champagne $56
Vilmart Grande Cellier, Champagne $75


  • Tags: cava, champagne, jessica bell, method, prosecco, spain, sparkling, tank, traditional, wine, wine class, wine tasting

Categories: MWS Decants

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