A Sparkling Experiment
One of the best things about home winemaking is the ability to think out of the box and experiment. Last year I made my first sparkling wine utilizing the traditional Champagne method. This is a multi-step and time consuming process of carbonating still wine; as I have gone through in detail in a previous blog. Another method of adding bubbles to your sparkling wine is through what is know as force-carbonation. In this method, still wines are put in sealed tanks and CO2 is introduced into the tank at a controlled rate to achieve a set pressure. In force-carbonation you have no reliance on yeast to do the job for you. You just need a proper vessel and source of pressurized CO2.
Home beer makers have been doing this for years in the kegging process. My best friend, a homebrewer, decided to give me a gift last year for my birthday of a product called Tap A Draft. He knows that I enjoy a good draught beer and thought this might be a good way for me to have it at home without the larger expense associated with a full kegging system. To date, I have made a few batches of beer and have been very happy with the outcome.
So always looking to try something new, I thought I might try an experiment of force carbonating some of my still white wines utilizing this system. I wasn't willing to give up my Vidal Blanc that I love so dearly for an experiment, so I decided to try a blend of my off-dry peach and apple wines from last year before I possibly invest my Vidal. So I did a 50:50 blend of the apple and peach wines. Since a knew that carbonation would enhance the acidity of the resulting sparkling wine, I decided to add a doságe of Sauternes. Sauternes is a wonderful sweet desert wine made from Botrytis-infected grapes (that enhances the grape's sugar levels and resultant sweetness) from the Sauternais region of the Graves section in Bordeaux France. In my experiment I added 80 mL of Sauternes to eight 750 mL of my fruit wines. I then installed the tap and placed the wine blend in the refrigerator to chill overnight. The next morning I installed a 16-gram CO2 cartridge to begin the force-carbonation process. I waited to install the CO2 till I ensured the wine was very cold, as the ability of a liquid to take CO2 into solution increases with the decreasing temperature of that liquid.
I then left the Tap A Draft system in the refrigerator for just under a week before I decided to pull a sample. What was the result? A refreshing sparkling wine! The balance of acidity, sweetness, and effervescence is just about perfect; surprisingly, for a first attempt.
So will this be my go to method for making sparkling wine moving forward? Probably not. There is something about opening an individual bottle of sparkling wine at a special event that elevates the experience. The traditional Champagne method will continue to be an annual event in my winemaking. The force-carbonating process, however, will be an excellent addition to the winemaking arsenal, however. It will provide a wonderful option for summer parties to go along with the Sangria that everyone seems to crave during that time of year.
In the end, I wanted to share my experience with this exercise. Go out and try new things in your winemaking. I have said it before and will always say it, there is always more to learn and experience in this hobby. That is what keeps it new and provides for a lifelong interest. Salute!