Legend has it that the first “modern” sparkling wine, champagne, was conceived by the Benedictine monk Pierre Pérignon in the abbey of Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers. This would take us back to mid-seventeenth century France. It’s no surprise then that the typical terms used to describe sparkling wine derive from the transalpine language, with words such as remuage, liqueur de tirage and liqueur d’expedition.
These evocative words tell us the tale of secular processes, which have been renewed over time, to create sparkling wines of the highest quality. Most of these are produced with the Classic Method (i.e. refermentation in the bottle). Each of these indicates a well-defined consolidated procedure that is essential to produce bubbles, those of the champagne variety and any other Classic Method sparkling wine, both dry and sweet.
Let’s start from liqueur de tirage. This is a mixture of sugar and yeasts which when introduced into the bottle with the fermented wine for the first time, allows the refermentation and the residual deposit on the bottom. The refermented wine will remain with these residual yeast deposits for a certain amount of time, sometimes even for years. The more the refermented wine remains with these exhausted yeasts, the greater the quality of the final product will be. These yeasts will then be removed before uncorking (the technical jargon term for this process is dégorgement, another French term). The undesired yeast is brought to the neck of the bottle, upon which a screw cap is placed to later expelled the yeast during the process of opening the bottle.
How do you bring the yeasts to the neck of the bottle? This is done with the practice of remuage. Bottles are placed horizontally on special supports, called pupitres, and then tilted and rotated gradually every day, first with one-eighth and then with one-quarter of a turn. Rotate and tilt, for at least one or two months, until the impurities of the residual yeasts have all reached the top of the bottle.
Finally, there is the liqueur d’expedition which corresponds to the last phase of sparkling wine production. This is an incredibly important phase as ensures that the quantity of liqueur introduced into the refermented wine is precise, in order to “top up” the quantity lost during the dégorgement. This will give the wine taste, aromas and flavor. The liqueur d’expedition is in fact nothing but a mixture of sugar cane that is dissolved in the wine. A dose of no or less than 3 grams per liter will give us dry, elegant pasunté wines with a strong hint of bread crust. Depending on how much liqueur you add, you will get the following types of sparkling wine: extra brut (from 0 to 6 grams), brut (from 6 to 12), extra dry (from 12 to 17), sec (from 17 to 32), demi-sec (from 32 to 50) and sweet (with more than 50 grams of sugar per liter).