The Method of Methode Traditionnelle

We know the French are very protective of their culture, however perhaps you weren't aware there’s a special technique used to make Champagne that further separates it from other sparkling wines. Australian winemakers also use the same 'Champagne' technique to create their take on one of the most celebrated drinks known to man - ‘Methode Traditionelle.’

Methode Traditionelle is the process used to create champagne and other top shelf sparkling wines. It is one of the most involved and complicated processes and as such is also the most expensive. It involves a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle, requires lengthy ageing periods and an expensive ‘riddling’ process.

To help explain the process we've broken it down into eight steps.

 

Primary fermentation

All wine goes through this process. This is the standard fermentation period for all recently harvested fruit.

Methode Traditionelle wines use the grape juice of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sometimes Pinot Meunier grapes. Each varietal is fermented separately.

Not all sparkling producers who employ the Methode Traditionelle use Pinot Meunier. For instance, New Zealand producers don't use the grape because it is not easily grown in the country and too expensive to import.

 

Blending

Once the juices have fermented, each varietal is then combined together to form the blend. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir blends are the most common in Australia and New Zealand.

Cellar hands adding the finishing touches with labelling at Castelli Estate.

Second fermentation

This is where Methode Traditionelle comes into its own.

The blended wine is bottled. Liquer de tirage is added to the bottle and then capped.

Liqueur de tirage is a solution made from the still wine (wine kept aside after the primary fermentation phase), sugar and yeast. It is added to the wine to cause a second fermentation via the yeast fermenting and the sugar converting into alcohol.

 

Ageing on lees (Sur Lie)

The bottle is stored horizontally to age in a cellar, generally for 12 – 18 months depending on the producer. Left on lees (dead yeast) the sparkling takes on toasty aromas with the mouthfeel becoming softer and creamier.

During this phase carbon dioxide is produced in the bottle and trapped. This is the cause of effervescence (bubbles) that is synonymous with champagne and sparkling wine.

 

Riddling (Remuage)

Now that the sparkling has aged, the lees must be removed from the bottle without upsetting the effervescence and flavour of the wine.

To do this the winemaker places the bottles into special racks called pupitres or mechanised gyropalette which point the top of the bottle down on a precise 130’ angle. The lees gradually accumulate in the neck of the bottle.

Cellar hand Zac Kerr at Castelli Estate laying down the sparkling bottles to be disgorged.

Disgorging (Degorgement)

Once the lees have fallen into the neck of the bottle, the winemaker then spot freezes the accumulated lees and removes the frozen plug from the bottle. This leaves the rest of the wine unaffected in the bottle.

 

Dosage

Immediately after disgorging, the winemaker tops up the bottles with a solution called liqueur d'expédition. The solution is made up of the base wine (that had been set aside after primary fermentation) and sugar. The previous amount of sugar placed in the wine will have converted to alcohol leaving the wine without any additional sweetness. The amount of sugar in the liqueur d'expédition determines the classification of sweetness.

 

The different styles of Methode Traditionelle

  • Doux – Sweet (More than 50 grams of sugar)
  • Demi-sec – Half-dry ( < 50 grams of sugar)
  • Sec – Dry (< 32 grams of sugar)
  • Extra sec – Extra dry (< 17 grams of sugar)
  • Brut – Very dry/ dry (< 12 grams of sugar)
  • Extra Brut – Very dry (< 6 grams of sugar)
  • Brut natural – Bone dry (< 3 grams of sugar)

 

Corking, labelling and release

After the winemaker has completed dosage, the sparkling wine is ready to be released. The bottle is sealed with a cork and labelled.

Premium sparkling will often be put away for five to 10 years before being released to the public. This allows the wine to mature in flavour.

When you're next looking for a great sparkling from Australia or New Zealand remember to look for Methode traditionelle on the bottle. It’s sure to be the perfect drink for celebrating.