What is Methode Champenoise?

We put up a blog post a few days ago highlighting the sparkling wine producer Gruet in New Mexico, and mentioned that they followed "Methode Champenoise," but what is Methode Champenoise? It is commonly used as the "traditional" sparkling wine making process in many areas of Europe. The method is known as the méthode champenoise for us in the US, however, the producers of Champagne have lobbied the EU (successfully) to restrict the labeling of "Methode Champenoise" in Europe to wines exclusively from Champagne.

The first and most well-known distinction in making wine following the Champagne Method requires that the wine go through a secondary fermentation by adding yeast and sugar with a temporary stopper and is subsequently stored horizontally. Vintage laws in Champagne require a minimum of 15 months of aging for NV (non-vintage) wines and three years for vintage wines.  Many of the top Champagne producers will hold their wines for six or eight years prior to release.  

The process after aging becomes increasingly more detailed, and perhaps less well known.  The wines are required to be stored at a 45-degree angle with the neck facing downward, for anywhere from 10 days to several weeks.  Bottles are subsequently turned periodically during this process.  This process and the next step called disgorging help to remove any remaining yeast from the bottles.  Lastly, the final step is known as dosage which entails inserting the final cork, and sometimes adding the last bit of sugar for sweetness.  

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