Weather Forecast


World of Wine: Summer heat gets one thinking about sparkling wine

Ron Smith

For me, at this point in the summer of 2014, the heat is wonderful. Working in the yard on gardening, landscape and turf grass projects, it is a pleasure to work up a sweat again – or am I still just thawing out from the past winter?

At the end of the day’s outdoor labor, nothing refreshes like a totally chilled sparkling wine, and nothing does it better than Korbel’s sparkling wine (aka – “California Champagne.”)

Located in the beautiful Russian River Valley Appellation just north of San Francisco, this winery, along with 100 others, is home to some of the most beautiful scenic and productive wine regions of America.

If you like wine and variable microclimates, this should be your destination sometime in the near future. The ussian River Valley Winery Association has several suggestions for touring the scenic area; car, bike and horseback. Home to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and several Zinfandels, the wine aficionado couldn’t be happier. Additionally, many of the wineries have free tastings.

Even though the term Champagne is legally limited to the French region where the bubbly is produced, Korbel produces their sparkling wine exactly the same way the master vintners in France do. It is known a Methode Champenoise, Methode traditionelle or the traditional method.

Such sparkling wines go through four basic stages of production: primary fermentation, secondary fermentation, where an exact amount of sugar and yeast are added to the bottle (called liqueur de triage) to initiate the natural carbonation, followed by labor intensive riddling, which removes the lees, forcing them into a plug in the neck, and disgorgement, where the plug is removed and the wine is ready to age or sell. You may find on the label of such a sparkling wine the statement, “Fermented in this bottle.”

Other techniques of producing sparkling wine include the Charmat Method, or simply adding carbon dioxide under pressure. Although similar to the traditional method in that a double fermentation takes place, this method differs in that the secondary fermentation takes place not in the bottle, but in large, pressurized, stainless steel tanks. It is then bottled under pressure to maintain its carbonation level.

What’s the difference to the consumer? First, generally the price, followed by the taste. The Charmat method lacks the yeasty taste found in the traditional Champagne method, and instead has more a fruity flavor. Side by side tasting would reveal an obvious difference.

Also, it is in the bubbles as well. The Charmat sparkling wine production has bubbles that are larger and less in number. For even larger and fewer bubbles, the act of adding carbon dioxide – similar to soft drink carbonation – is also produced for lower-quality sparkling wines.

How many bubbles in a bottle of Champagne? Through careful measurement and advanced mathematics, there are roughly 56 million tiny bubbles in a single bottle of Champagne. Think of all the tickling, cooling refreshment those small bubbles can bring during a warm summer evening.