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How To Make Sparkling Wines

May 26, 2008
Ever since that Benedictine monk Dom Perignon perfected his method of making sparkling wine in the 17th century it has been a source of special happiness to men and women. Indeed the happier the occasion, the greater is it enhanced by sparkling wine. This is an established must for celebrating weddings, christenings, anniversaries and all new ventures. It is increasingly popular for receptions of countless kinds, and it can be equally enjoyable at home. It can be still more enjoyable if you have made it yourself!

Many ingredients are suitable for making sparkling wines, though probably the best are grapes, apples, pears and gooseberries. Redcurrants make a pretty pink 'champagne', and damsons a red one.Start the wine with the intent to make it sparkle. Don't make it too strong! If you do, you may not get a second fermentation in the bottle. An initial S.G. of 1.080 to 1.086 is quite adequate. Use a good champagne yeast; it improves the flavour and facilitates racking. Don't make the wine too strong in flavour either, otherwise the champagne flavour will not be sufficiently noticeable.

Make the wine as already described. Ferment it to dryness, rack it and store it for six months to mature and fall star-bright. If necessary fine and/or filter out any haze.

Dissolve 2 oz (70 grams) sugar per gallon in the wine. 2 oz of sugar per gallon is the ideal quantity. In no circumstances should more than 3 oz. be used in case the pressure of carbon dioxide produced in the secondary fermentation becomes so high as to burst the bottle.

Prepare an active champagne yeast and when fermenting vigorously add it to the wine and fit an air-lock. It is very important to use a champagne yeast to obtain the correct flavour and a firm deposit. Other yeasts give an off flavour and are difficult to remove.
Prepare enough proper champagne bottles by washing them clean, sterilise them with a sulphite solution and drain them dry.

No other bottle is strong enough to withstand the pressure of a secondary fermentation. Do not use chipped or scratched bottles in case they have been weakened. Soften sufficient hollow plastic stoppers in hot water and have them ready.

Have some wire cages, known as 'muselet', ready to fasten down the stoppers. As soon as the wine is fermenting, siphon it into the champagne bottles.
Shake any surplus water from the stoppers, press them tightly home and fasten each one down with wire.
Label the bottles, including also the date of bottling and secondary fermentation.

Place the bottles in a warm situation for one week, while the sugar syrup is fermented, then remove them to a cool store for at least six months and preferably for one year. It is effective in this period to store them upside down in a crate or wine bottle carton, so that the yeast deposit settles in the hollow stopper.
It is necessary to leave the wine on the yeast for at least six months and preferably for a year, to absorb the flavour. Champagne yeast in these circumstances does not produce off flavours.

Shortly before serving the wine, chill the neck of each bottle in some crushed ice mixed with salt, until a small block of ice is formed in the stopper, encapsulating the sediment. While this is happening prepare some sugar syrup and some clean stoppers and wires. Some winemakers dissolve caster sugar in Vodka, others use 3 drops of saccharin or one Sweetex tablet per bottle.

When the bottles are ready, take them one by one and hold them at an angle of 45 facing a clean and sterilised bucket.

Remove the wire and ease out the hollow stopper with the yeast sediment adhering to the inside of the dome.
Quickly add the saccharin or syrup to the bottle, insert a clean stopper and rewire until the wine is wanted. It is ready for serving as soon as the cold wine has warmed up a little.

Serve it at about 8C (46F) in a tall flute shaped glass accompanied by the food of your choice from oysters to rich fruit cake.

Sparkling wine makes a splendid aperitif before a meal and has sufficient character to be served throughout a meal. It also makes an ideal mid-morning tonic. It can be served to young and old - and all the others in between!

Once the knack of sparkling has been learned you will find yourself making more and more sparkling wines to serve in festive mood on many occasions.

A plastic stopper has been marketed, called a Vintrap, which has a short tube or blister above the dome. The wine is stored so that the sediment falls into this blister which can be cut off just prior to serving the wine. A bung is provided to fit into the hole made when the blister is cut off. The sediment can be seen in the blister and the whole process is made that little bit easier. With a Vintrap, it is sufficient to chill the wine hard and it is not necessary to freeze the neck.
About the Author
Gordon Warre writes about Blackpool Wine Bars and Blackpool Hotels
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