JWL Issue #025: Champagne-method Sparkling Wine

October 23, 2018

I’m two episodes into podcast editing and really finding the rhythm of it now. It’s an odd beast podcasting and actually is seven or eight skills masquerading as one. Launch date is getting pushed back again but I’m aiming for the next two-ish weeks for episode one to be launching. Keep your eyes peeled.

I was in Hungary last week and loved a lot of the wine there. It’s a varied country. In one part, you’ve got tannic, Bordeaux or Barolo-esque wines, that felt far too young for when we drank them. In another, you’ve got wonderfully soft stone-fruit led whites. Elsewhere you’ve got slightly limey, tropical styles. And that’s before you even get to Tokaj. I’ll write a blogpost on the wines of Hungary soon.

I’m exploring a few event type ideas at the moment, which is great fun. If there was one category of wine you really wished you knew more about, what would it be?

Finally, it’s a supermarket special this week. Waitrose has a 25% offer on and I’ve selected the three picks I’d go for in the sale.* 


Puklavec & FriendsCabernet Sauvignion & Merlot (2017) is a real treat. I’m not usually a fan of lots of cheaper cab sav/merlot blends, as I find the balance is usually way off (paper dry or way too tannic). This wine is wonderfully balanced though. The tannins are smooth, the fruit is pronounced but not overripe and sickly sweet. A real delight at £8.79

With some big house Champagne, I always worry I’m paying for marketing rather than wine. Pol Roger bucks that trend. It’s rare for something like this gets this sort of discount (usually £46 with 25% off until January), so go get a bottle even if you just save it for Christmas or New Year. Or do what I’d do, and have an opulent Saturday morning brunch with some eggs this weekend.

Finally, if you’ve never had a white Rioja before, check out Cune Rioja (£10.99). With the days drawing in, you might find white an odder, choice but the full body this wine gets from its production suit colder nights.


The ‘Champagne Method’ for sparkling wine

England, you might have heard, produces sparkling wine with the 'traditional Champagne method,’ which is great, but what does it mean? 

An initial fermentation happens of grapes that are typically low in sugar and high in acidity. Low sugar, high acidity grapes like cool climates like Champagne and England. This base wine isn’t very nice itself. 

Different base wines are then blended together to form what’s known as a cuvée. Different base wines are used for a number of reasons. You can use base wines from different years’ harvests, which helps balance difficult years (these are called non-vintage or NV). Or you can blend base wines across different vines, grapes or sites, which means you can create different flavour profiles based on terroirs or grape variety. 

With your cuvée ready, you put them into bottle with some yeast and additional sugar and begin the second fermentation. These are rotated around so that the yeasty residue ends up in the neck of the bottle.

This gives traditional method sparkling wine aromas from the yeast (bread, toast, brioche, etc). This residue is known as the lees (and you’ll see that word in still wines too. This process can last between months and years depending on the winemaker and the wine. 

The lees are finally removed in a process called dégorgement, with a final liquid top-up, sometimes with sugar, known as the dosage. The bottles are nicely wrapped, packaged and sent off for you to enjoy.



A debated term, it was created by the French to refer to the impact that the earth, soil, climate, and environment have on the taste of a wine.

*Not all wines featured on offer as of of December 2020, up-to-date prices shown 

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