Wausau Pilot & Review

Editor’s note: The Wine Life, by Ron Glaman, is a special feature from Vino Latte in Wausau that will help you appreciate and better understand the wonderful world of wine, from tasting and buying tips to food pairing recommendations and more. Learn more about Vino Latte at 3309 Terrace Ct., Wausau, or online at http://www.vino-latte.com/.

By Ron Glaman, the Owner’s Husband

With Thanksgiving behind us, it’s time we look ahead to other holidays – which, of course, include New Year’s Eve! We all know the scene – it is December 31 and you run to the store to pick up “Champagne” to celebrate the New Year. You wait until nearly midnight, pop the cork, pour the bubbles, and toast the New Year. And for many people, that’s the one time a year you drink sparkling wine. I am hoping that this column changes your perspective on when, and why, to pop the cork on a bottle of bubbly; it’s more often than you may think!

First, let’s cover some of the basics. In broad terms, there are three “types” of wine – still wine (which are the wines most of us drink and think about), fortified (wines that have additional alcohol added to them, such as Port and Sherry), and sparkling wine (wines with bubbles!). Generically called sparkling wine (aka Bubbles, Bubbly, Sparkling, Sparklers), it is made in various styles, sweetness levels, and can be made from any grape variety, anywhere in the world. 

The most famous regionally named sparkling wine is, of course, Champagne (from Champagne, France). Other “names” include Crémant (from France, other than the Champagne region, but made the same way), Prosecco (Italy), Cava (Spain), and Sekt (Germany). Each of these old-world sparkling wines is produced with specific grapes, from specific regions and in a legally prescribed manner, based on the wine laws of the country. Other sparklers from these areas are not required to follow the specific rules but cannot be named by the regional designation. 

In the United States sparkling wine is called ‘sparkling wine’ and there are no legal requirements that apply to its production. Discerning between the regions by using the correct terminology (such as not calling every sparkling wine Champagne) is important as it can tell you about the grapes used, the style and what to expect from the bottle.

There are six different methods to make sparkling wine: traditional, transfer, tank, ancestral, carbonation and continuous. The most common and well-known methods involve the production of a base wine (a still wine), followed by another fermentation to create the CO2, a/k/a:  the bubbles.

Traditional Method

The best (arguably) sparkling wines are produced by a secondary fermentation in the bottle from which you will drink it, called the traditional method, or méthode champenoise (Champagne Method), and known by other names in other countries:  Methode Cap Classique in South Africa; Metodo Classico in Italy; klassische flaschengärung in Germany. In this method the base wine is bottled, a quantity of sugar and yeast called the tirage are added, and the bottle is sealed with a crown cap which is like a beer bottle closure.  The added sugar and yeast result in the secondary fermentation inside the bottle, which creates a small amount of alcohol and CO2. The CO2 is now trapped in the wine and dissolves into the solution and creates the carbonation (bubbles!).

Even though the wine is a “sparkling wine,” the process is not done!  The yeast cells added to the bottle eventually die and are then referred to as the “lees” and must be removed.  In addition, subsequent aging of the wine (laws in some regions require certain aging to label wines in a particular way) leads to a more complex and, as most believe, better wine.

Following aging, the wines are manipulated in such a manner as to move all the lees to the neck of the bottle; this process is called “riddling” (in French remuage). Traditionally a remuer, a person trained in riddling, would systematically turn each bottle 1/4 turn by hand, and over time (as much as 2-3 months) the bottle is turned nearly upside down. This took place in a riddling rack, which has holes to hold the neck of the bottle as the process continues. This is a very time-consuming process, but today has very much been replaced by a mechanical device called a gyropalette, which can do the same process on many bottles – as many as 500 per palette cage – in about a week!

Once the lees are in the neck of the bottle, bottles are dipped in a nitrogen bath to freeze the yeast capsule, the crown cap is popped off and the pressure the bottle disgorges (pushes out) the frozen yeast.

At this point a winemaker may add the liquer d’expedition (also called the dosage), which is a mixture of sugar and wine.  Dosage will dictate if a sparkling wine is going to be sweet, and if so, how sweet. (Sweetness levels of wine and sparkling wine is another lengthy discussion!). The bottle is corked with the cage – the metal thing wrapped around the cork to hold it into the bottle.

Transfer Method

The “transfer method” of producing sparkling wine is similar, but after the wine is aged in bottle, they are emptied (transferred) into tanks, where the dead yeast (the lees) is filtered. The wine is then bottled under pressure, during which dosage, if any, occurs. 

Tank Method

The next most popular is the “tank method,” also called Charmat, where the entire “traditional” process takes place in tanks followed by bottling. This process is more affordable and results in wines at a lower price point.  Because it is done without the aging that takes place in the traditional method, the tank method results in wonderfully fresh and bright wine! The best known wines produced in this method are Prosecco and Lambrusco.

Carbonation Method

One of the least expensive and fastest ways to produce sparkling wine is with a “carbonator,” called the Carbonation or Soda method. In this method a still wine is produced and then carbonated by adding CO2 in a pressurized tank. This method creates sparkling wines exhibiting simple, fresh characteristics, many of which may be a bit sweet. These can be refreshing on the patio, deck, or pontoon!

Ancestral Method

The next method of production is likely the “original” sparkling method but has not been appreciated by the modern wine drinker until more recently and is growing in popularity and availability.  Called the Ancestral Method (Methode Ancestrale), it creates the bubbles without all the extra work.

To understand the Ancestral Method, one must first understand that during the making of a still wine, the first (primary) fermentation creates alcohol and CO2 and would typically be allowed to finish (complete fermentation).  This means that the yeast eats all, or nearly all, the sugar.  In some cases, fermentation may be stopped prematurely to leave a little residual sugar in the wine. In the Ancestral Method, during primary fermentation the wine is chilled considerably to stop the fermentation because yeast become inactive when it gets too cold.  The wine is then bottled and when it warms up, the yeast becomes active and fermentation reinitiates – creating alcohol and CO2. Because the bottle is sealed, the CO2 is stuck in the bottle and the wine becomes sparkling! This process (and the resulting wine) is referred to as Petillant Natural or Pet-Nat (or Natty). Petillant is French for sparkling, and it’s naturally occurring in the bottle.

Continuous Method

The last method is the Continuous Method, also called the Russian Method, and is done by continuously adding yeast to pressurized tanks, transferring the wine to other pressurized tanks, and eventually bottling it. Only a couple large companies are using this method, and mostly in Russia and Germany.


The different methods to produce sparkling wine result in different pressures (Traditional method sparkling wines may be upwards of 90psi) in the final bottling, with the different pressure resulting in bubbles of varying character. Higher pressure results in finer/smaller bubbles, with lower pressure resulting in rougher/larger bubbles. The “amount” of bubbles or sparkle is referred to by descriptive categories which give insight as to the character of the bubbles. Full sparkling wine, simply referred to as sparkling, or other names referenced above (Champagne, Crémant, Sekt, Cava) are those with the most bubbles and higher pressures. These wines can also be identified because they have the traditional Champagne style cork, with the bulbous end visible outside the bottle, wrapped in the metal cage. Semi-sparkling wines, called Frizzante or Petillant, are considered slightly sparkling, with “fewer bubbles” than full sparkling. Wines bottled with little pressure, and likely only having a few bubbles that appear on the sides of the glass when the wine is poured, are sometimes referred to as “beady.” Bubbles can also be referred to as “beads” with a reference of fine beads and coarse beads

The consistency, texture and “mouth-feel” of the bubbles is described as “mousse,” rated from delicate, to creamy, to aggressive and refers to the texture and size of the bubbles.  It is a sign of how well the CO2 is dissolved in the wine, with delicate typically being the most desirable, and primarily being the result of the traditional method.

Sparkling wine can be completely dry (no sweetness) to very sweet. This sweetness level is obtained through the addition of sugar prior to final packaging, called dosage. depending on the vision of the winemaker.

Why is all this discussion of how sparkling wine is made relevant to you as a consumer? Because the methods may dictate quality and are certainly reflected in price! The varying methods result in quite different wines, with the more time consuming, and therefore more expensive, production creating the most prestigious wines displaying delicate mousse, crisp acidity and characteristics of apple, almond, minerality and yeast/bread.

When opening a bottle of bubbles, it is important not to POP the cork. Though this is fun, it can be dangerous and can lead to spillage (gasp!!). Grip the cork tight and rotate the bottle to dislodge it, allowing the pressure to push the cork out. Although the traditional flute is elegant, it is not necessary – just enjoy in whatever glasses you have. Sip and enjoy the look, smell, taste and feel of the bubbles! It’s also not necessary, or desire, to swirl a sparkling wine – this may lead to the bubbles dissipating more quickly!

Drink More Sparkling!

Let’s address the empty glass in the room. Sparkling isn’t just for New Year’s Eve. Sparkling wine is the best way to start a dinner party!  Handing guests a gorgeous glass of bubbles is a greeting few forget. It cleanses their palate of tooth paste or gum and gives your guests something to do with their hands. 

Bubbles are one of the best food pairing wines and go well with appetizers, main dishes and even dessert. They can be refreshing on a hot summer day, make for the perfect tub soaking complement and, yes, are celebratory in nature, whether it is toasting the New Year, someone’s birthday, the end of the week or just a Tuesday night!

Sparkling wine should play a role in your Wine Life – and not just for New Year’s Eve. These wines can teach you about regions, styles, food pairings and history. A tagline at Vino Latte is Drink More Sparkling! – and we are sure that if YOU Drink More Sparkling! it will lead to greater enjoyment and appreciation.

Until next time, drink well!