Making Champagne

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The first stage in making Champagne is to produce a base wine, which is made primarily from Pinot Noir and/or Chardonnay grapes. Next comes the secondary fermentation, which must be carried out in a closed container in order to retain the gas. Sugar is added to the dry base wine as food for the yeast. The wine, sugar, and yeast are put into individual bottles, corked, clamped, and kept at about 55°F/13°C.

Though the secondary fermentation is usually complete after about two months, the wine is left to age in contact with the yeast sediment for anywhere from a few months to several years. During this time, most of the yeast cells die, fall apart, and release their contents into the wine, giving it a distinctive, complex flavor with toasted, roasted, nutty, coffee, even meaty notes (due in large part to complex sulfur compounds). In addition to flavor, yeast proteins and carbohydrates will stabilize bubbles when they form in the glass, and help produce the very fine bubbles typical of Champagne. After aging on the yeast, the sediment is removed and the bottle topped off with additional wine, and finished with a small amount of aged wine mixed with sugar and brandy. The bottle is then recorked.