I want to make sparklers with the traditional champagne method, but without the additional cost of champagne bottles, crown caps, baskets, etc. Making sparkling wines is not that difficult, and I think I can do it with with 750 ml flip-top bottles.
And that is the concept: A complete Champenoise process can be done successfully with a carboy and flip-top bottles.
The goal is to create sediment-free, tasty wine with carbonation. The challenge is doing it in one bottle and without the above-mentioned additional supplies.
In the Champagne process, the first alcoholic fermentation is conducted to dryness in a large vat or tank. Then the wine is poured into thick bottles, a small amount of yeast wine and sugar (“liqueur de tirage”) is added and the bottles are sealed and placed at an angle, mouth down.
Over the subsequent months (to years) the bottles are tapped and turned to move the plug of lees towards the mouth (riddling) as a second alcoholic fermentation, (producing the CO2) takes place.
After that period of time, the bottles are dipped in cold liquid (to freeze the lees), opened, and the plug is removed (disgorgement).
Finally, the bottles receive another dose of wine of variable sweetness and are re-sealed with a cork and basket.
In the past, my process has been to ferment the wine to near dryness in a jug. When there was still minimal activity (bubbles), I bottled the wine into 750 ml flip-top bottles (image, left)and added 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon of table sugar.
This has yielded variable results, as far as taste and carbonation go. I am still waiting for an opportunity to do a tasting of my Sparkling Cider and Red Currant Sparkler with a winemaker friend of mine, and will write about that.
It’s clear, however, the bottles and closures can handle the pressure. In fact, some bottles have been veritable geysers when opened, even after extensive chilling. So, it stands to reason, that I can achieve a Champenoise process in flip-top bottles.
This past weekend, I started about half a gallon of base wine – 1.5L of Martinelli’s Apple Juice (chaptalized to about 19 bx and acidulated to 3.2 pH) and about 200 mL of my Fiano currently fermenting (for better flavor and aromatics as well as to inoculate the apple juice).
When I’m done, I should have four 750 mL bottles.
The trick will be 1) creating an active liqueur de tirage with just the right dosage of sugar, 2) successful riddling and disgorgement and, then, 3) determining the makeup and amount of a dosage.
I need to decide on a couple things by the time the base wine is done:
- What will I use for the liqueur de tirage? Should it be more chaptalized apple juice, leftover frozen Fiano or finished base wine with sugar and activated yeast? How much total sugar should there be per bottle?
- Will and icebath and internal pressure be enough to disgore the less plug? Sometimes, a bidule is used in commercial Champagne production to more efficiently and reliablycleanly remove the plug. I’m not sure how I can do that without compromising the seal of the flip top.
- What will I use for the dosage? Should it be more chaptalized apple juice, clear Fiano juice or sweetened base wine (high SO2 content in all). How much do I need to add?