Dear Wine Wizard,
I am in the process of vinting a Champagne, and after having read of a couple of different ways to create the “sparkling” effect, I am now thoroughly confused. I started from a Sauvignon Blanc. One theory suggests that all that is needed is a little sugar in each of the bottles as they are capped. Another school of thought suggests adding champagne yeast. A third recommends adding both. Am I correct in assuming that too much food will result in the loss of the batch? What do you recommend?
Wine Wizard replies: First let this Wine Wizard ruminate over the techniques mentioned above. Adding a little sugar (called priming sugar in the beer trade, dosage in the wine business) to newly fermented wine and then capping the stuff up tight might result in an adequate amount of sparkle — if the remaining yeast are still healthy enough to carry out the secondary fermentation. If only yeast are added, there might not be enough sugar left from the original Sauvignon Blanc fermentation for the yeast to chew up into ethanol and carbon dioxide, and you might not get any bubbles that way either. I suggest trying to get your technique as close as possible to the Methode Champenoise, the traditional way that Champagne is made in France. I’ll leave out the cryptic French winespeak.
- Ferment your base wine (in your case, the Sauvignon Blanc) to dryness in a typical five-gallon carboy or other similar vessel. Your acid should be crisp and tart, and your wine clean and free of any off-odors.
- Prepare your bottles. In this case you should use 750-milliliter Champagne bottles from your local homebrewing or winemaking store. Clean and sanitize as usual, except you’re going to need to rent a bottle capper (not corker) and the caps to go with it.
- Now comes the tricky part: getting the balance of yeast, extra sugar, and yeast nutrient right so you have adequate sparkle but not so much gas produced that your bottles explode. Start with 11/2 teaspoon sugar per bottle.