In the early 1600s, a new wine emerged in France. Called vin gris, it sometimes underwent an unplanned second fermentation as it was shipped. When the wine arrived at its destination, it was bottled right away and retained some unplanned sparkle. From this pleasant accident, the history of sparkling wine began.
Vin gris was introduced to England around this time, when a French courtier named M. de Saint-Evremond fell from the king”s favor and fled to London. He established himself in English society and brought his favorite bubbly wines to his new homeland, where they found instant popularity.
Turning Surprise into Science
During the late 1600s, in the serene abbeys of the Champagne region of France, two monks named Dom Perignon and Frere Jean Oudart were the first to discover a deliberate way of capturing the bubbles and creating quality sparkling wines. Many of their methods still remain the standard for sparkling wine, such as:
- blending grapes from various vineyards
- clarifying sediment from the wine
- replacing hemp-wrapped wooden stoppers with corks.
In 1836, making wine in Champagne was greatly improved with the introduction of a method called reduction Francois. This involved measuring the sugar in wine and made it possible to know how much sugar need to be added to produce the correct amount of carbon dioxide in the bottle.
By the 1840s, Champagne sparkling wines were so successful that the production of non-bubbly wines practically disappeared from the area.
Champagne or Sparkling Wine
Sparkling wines from the Champagne region of France have become so popular that the name “Champagne” is often used to describe any sparkling wine. In truth, not all sparkling wines are Champagne. Champagne only describes those wines that come from the Champagne region.
In other parts of the world, sparkling wines have their own titles:
- Cava, bubbly wine from Spain
- Cremant, sparkling wine from other areas of France outside Champagne
- Sekt, sparkling wine from Germany
- Spumante, Prosecco and Frizante, bubbly wine from Italy.
Sparkling Wine in Spain and Italy
In 1872, the first Cava was created by Josep Raventos. After traveling through Europe and seeing how Champagne was enjoyed, he decided to try to adapt his family”s still wines into bubbly.
Because of the different grapes and climate of the area, Cava took on its own unique characteristics. Spanish Cava is more dry than Champagne and is often described as lemony, light and perfumed. Probably the best known Cava in the United States is Freixenet.
Also in the late 1800s, the Italians discovered how to create their own local sparkling wines. The grapes and climate of this area gave their sparkling wines a bright straw color and fruity taste. Prosecco is considered an ideal summer wine due to its tones of almond, honey and melon.
How Sparkling Wine is Made
Carbon dioxide is the secret that gives sparking wines their bubbly effervescence. This gas is produced during the production of all wines. What makes sparkling wines different is that they go through a double fermentation. The first fermentation is usually in steel tanks, and the second fermentation takes place in the bottle.
During this second process, yeast and sugar are added to produce carbon dioxide, which builds up pressure in the bottle. The yeast and sediment are then removed and the wine is aged. All around the world, wine producers have their own secret recipes and variations in production methods, which make each sparkling wine distinctive.