Champagne is associated with celebrations and good fortune, and it is the most common flute filler to bring in the new year. The usual New Year's toasts say good-bye to the year past and extend well-wishings of health, prosperity, and happiness for the year ahead.
Many of our readers are winemakers, and in light of the holiday upon us, I thought I could provide our winemaking readers with a recipe for a sparkling wine. The bottles must sit for 6 months for the sediment to settle, then age for another 6 months, so unfortunately, you won't be able to pop this cork to bring in the new year until next New Year's Eve. (The reason I say sparkling wine and not champagne is that true champagne comes only from Champagne, France.)
Making Sparkling Wine by the Champagne Method
from The Home Winemaker's Companion by Gene Spaziani
Being able to make the world’s most festive and famous beverage has to be a great thrill for a home winemaker. For that special anniversary, birthday celebration, or dinner party, a well-made sparkling wine with your name on the label can be a rewarding experience. A challenge? Yes! But the accomplishment will earn praise all around.
Yield: 5 gallons (19 L)Equipment
5-gallon (19 L) carboy
26 750-mL (25.4 oz) champagne bottles
26–52 crown caps
26 plastic champagne corks
26 wire champagne hoods
5 gallons (19 L) of a finished wine not more than 10% alcohol
1 package (5 g) Red Star champagne yeast
For refilling bottles after disgorgement
1 bottle (750 mL; 25.4 oz) 80 proof brandy
1 bottle (750 mL; 25.4 oz) 10% alcohol white wine
1. Sanitize all equipment.
2. Test the wine with the sugar-testing kit. For best results, the wine should have 0.25 to 1.50 percent sugar.
3. Prepare the yeast culture according to the directions on the packet.
4. Siphon the wine into a sanitized 5-gallon (19 L) carboy.
5. Add the fermenting yeast culture.
6. Add sugar as follows:
Sugar Sugar to Be in Wine Added per Gallon
0 2.0 oz (56 g)
0.25% 1.8 oz (50.4 g)
0.50% 1.4 oz (39.2 g)
0.75% 1.2 oz (33.6 g)
1.0% 0.8 oz (22.4 g)
1.25% 0.4 oz (11.2 g)
1.50% 0.2 oz (5.6 g)
7. Stir the sugar into the wine, top up the bottle with brandy or white wine, and shake well.
8. Bottle the wine in champagne bottles, and cap each with a crown cap.
9. Store the bottles in a warm environment (70°F; 21°C), upside down in a wine carton. Daily for 3 weeks, lift each bottle several inches, twist, and shake, then return to the carton. Use protective gloves and safety eyeglasses to guard against possible bottle explosions.
10. Allow bottles to sit for 6 months.
11. When sediment settles in the neck of the bottles and the wine clears, the wine is ready for disgorgement, or cleaning. Place the bottles upside down in a freezer for about an hour. The sediment will solidify in the neck.
12. Hold a bottle at a 45-degree angle facing away from you and uncap it. The pressure in the bottle will push the ice plug, with the sediment inside, out of the bottle.
13. Top up the bottle with brandy, then insert a plastic cork by banging it into the neck with a rubber mallet. Tie down the cork with the wire champagne hood, or you can use the bottle cap as a closure.
14. Age the bottles upright for 6 months, then taste.
*Hydrometer (Saccharometer): This is a necessity for all winemakers. The hydrometer eliminates the guesswork and ensures accuracy. It measure the sugar content of the juice and describes the potential alcohol content. There are a number of different types, but we advocate purchasing one that measures the sugar percentage (Brix temperature), alcohol potential, and specific gravity.
Side Note: I had originally started researching the history of the Champagne Toast, but I didn't come up with anything concrete. However, I did find this interesting little factoid on DoItYourself.com: "The bubbles for which it is famous were accidentally introduced, and Dom Pérignon — known as the father of champagne — spent his whole life trying to get them out!"
Have a Happy New Year!
— Kristy L. MacWilliams, Marketing Manager