When last we left our bottles of méthode champenoise, they were hanging suspended in the air on a gyropalette arm, allowing the lees to settle into the neck of each bottle. Remember, méthode champenoise is the process whereby secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle, creating those beautiful bubbles.
Bottle fermentation is the main reason that the bubbles are finer, last longer, and you get the wonderful flavors from the yeast. The longer you leave the wine in contact with the “yeast lees” the better, up to a point. This gives méthode champenoise, French style Champagne, the depth and complexity that sparkling wine created in large vats or tanks lacks. Or, as many champagne lovers exclaim, “A sip of heaven for your palate!”
Champagne has two distinct lives. The first is the slow development, dependent upon the presence of yeast during lees maturation [which occurs pre-disgorgement]. Yeast has the unique ability to absorb oxygen for an extended period [in some instances more than 50 years], which means that champagne kept on the lees will remain fresh for years and develop layers of complexity and flavor.
The second is post-disgorgement, when the yeast is no longer protecting the champagne from oxygen. During the disgorgement process, a small amount of oxygen will inevitably enter the bottle. Once this oxygen enters the bottle during disgorgement, along with the oxygen that will enter through the cork over time, champagne begins the slow ageing process.
So, what is disgorgement? The purpose is to expel the deposit of sediment that has collected in the neck of the bottle as a result of the remuage, or the riddling process. Often the neck of the bottle is submerged into a refrigerating solution at -25°F. The sediment is then ejected under pressure and is released in the form of an ice plug. This allows for a minimum loss of wine.
In lieu of submerging the neck of the bottle into a refrigerant, a skilled disgorger will lift the bottle, bottle top down, and quickly and cautiously place the bottle, still upside down, into the arm of the disgorging unit. As the arm begins to lift the bottle upright, the crown cap is popped, and the sediment plug is released. This is the same principle but requires much more care on the part of the line operator.
*If the operator inadvertently lifts the bottle too soon, the sediment will be released and mixed with the wine, necessitating that the bottle be returned to a cage and begin the riddling process once again.
Disgorgement is a critical point in the life of méthode champenoise sparkling wine, the grand finale after many months and sometimes years of peaceful slumber on the lees.
Before the disgorged wine is fitted with a cork and wire hood, the bottle is topped to its prior fill level with liqueur d’expedition, a mixture of wine and sugar. The amount of sugar determines the sweetness of the wine and balances the acidity. The acidity is essential to keep the wine fresh and the balance is a fine line determined by the winemaker.
If the winemaker is satisfied with the wine as it stands, the liqueur d’expedition will simply consist of a mixture of sugar and the same wine as the bottle holds. But the winemaker may also create the liqueur d’expedition utilizing a reserve wine. This adds an extra dimension to the winemaker’s palette of flavors, perfecting the finishing touch to an exceptional bottle of méthode champenoise sparkling wine.
The role of dosage, or liqueur d’expedition, adds to the wine’s sensory development and varies from winemaker to winemaker and according to the style of champagne.
Immediately after, the cork is squeezed into the neck of the bottle under pressure, then held in place with a muselet [wire cage] to make an airtight seal. This new cork does allow for some exchange with the outside air, which is why the wine continues to age over the years. The champagne, or méthode champenoise sparkling wine, is then returned to the cellar to relax and begin the ageing process in the bottle.
What’s left… hmm, well, chill a bottle, remove the muselet, turn the bottle and remove the cork. Careful, despite what you see in the movies, you should never let the cork pop or blow off and release any of that exquisite wine. Pour, swirl ‘n sip. Do it again and taste the wine. Slowly. Taste again. With each small sip, you’ll begin to feel that creamy, soft, rich texture on your palate. Let those tiny bubbles burst across your tongue. Smell the brioche, green apple, or nutty yeastiness, even citrus. Swallow and begin to appreciate the layers of complexity that delight your palate with each sip.
An exceptional champagne will surprise and delight you. It’s a sensory experience that is meant to be shared. We hope that you’ll visit and join us for a tasting of our Serendipity: Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Rosé, SeREDipity, and Demí-Sec. We think that each is unique in their own right. Explore their varietal differences and pick your favorite!