The Traditional Method


What is the Traditional Method or Méthode Traditionnelle?

It is a method for sparkling wine production which creates the effervescence in the wine through a secondary fermentation in the bottle (as opposed to other methods).

This process is used for the production of Champagne and other quality sparkling wines, and it is the most expensive of all the sparkling processes.

The sparkling wines that follow this production method are usually called “Méthode Traditionnelle” in order to differentiate from wines produced through other techniques.

Daniel Le Brun only uses Méthode Traditionnelle.

The sparkling wines that follow this production method, are usually called “Méthode Traditionnelle” or “Méthode Champenoise” in order to differentiate from wines produced through other techniques.

It is also common to find this technique referred to in many different ways such as “Méthode Traditionelle”, “Methode Traditionnelle” and “Method Traditional”.

Traditional Method – Step by Step

1. Primary Fermentation

The grape juice is fermented following the same process used for still wines. The traditional grape varietals used for Méthode Traditionnelle wines are Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. In New Zealand, Pinot Meunier grapes are hard to grow and rare to find, therefore most New Zealand Méthode Traditionnelle wines do not include this grape variety.

2. Blending (assemblage)

The different wines are blended.

3. Second fermentation

The blended wine is put in thick bottles along with the liqueur de tirage, stopped with a crown cap or a plug.

liqueur de tirage is a mixture of sugar, yeast and still wine, necessary to start the secondary fermentation process.

The bottle is stored horizontally in a cellar while the second fermentation takes place.  Notably this is the most expensive approach to second fermentation.

During the secondary fermentation, the carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle creating the effervescence associated with sparkling wine.

4. Aging on lees (sur lie)

After the fermentation process is complete, the wine is “left on lees” (e.g. the yeast cells are left in the bottle).

Leaving the wine in contact with lees adds the positive effects of a creamy mouthfeel, breadlike and floral aroma, as well as reduced astringency.

5. Riddling (remuage)

After aging, the lees must be consolidated for removal through a process called riddling.

During this process, bottles used to be placed on special racks called pupitres, however this technique has now mostly been replaced by mechanized riddling equipment (gyropalette).

The bottles are placed in the riddling equipment with the crown cap pointed down.

The movement of the riddling equipment pushes the lees present in the wine toward the neck of the bottle making it ready for the next step.

6. Disgorging (dégorgement)

This step involves freezing a small amount of the liquid in the neck, and removing this plug of ice containing the lees.

7. Dosage

Immediately after disgorging but before final corking, the liquid level is topped up with liqueur d'expédition.

liqueur d'expédition is a mixture of the base wine and sugar.  Generally, sugar is added to balance the high acidity of the wine, and since the sugar previously in the wine is entirely consumed in the second fermentation, the amount of sugar in the liqueur d'expédition determines the final level of sweetness, defining the different styles of Méthode Traditionnelle.

The different styles of Méthode Traditionnelle

Doux -  sweet (greater than 50 grams of sugar)

Demi-sec - half-dry (less than 50 grams of sugar)

Sec – dry (less than 32 grams of sugar)

Extra sec - extra dry (less than 17 grams of sugar)

Brut - very dry-dry (less than 12 grams of sugar)

Extra brut - very dry ( less than 6 grams of sugar)

Brut natural/brut zero/ultra brut - bone dry (less than 3 grams of sugar)

8. Corking, Labeling and Release

After dosage, the bottle receives its final cork and labels, and might be held for another length of time in order to give the wine time to rest adding increased complexity and giving the wine time to integrate the liqueur before being released to the market.

Other methods

There are three other methods of sparkling wine production:

1. Carbon Dioxide: it is the simple injection of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the wine, which is the same process used in soft drinks. This process produces big bubbles that dissipate quickly in the glass.

2. Method Charmat: the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in bulk tanks, and is bottled under pressure. This method is used for Prosecco and Asti in particular, and produces smaller, longer-lasting bubbles. This is now used widely around the world to produce light, delicate sparkling wines.

3. Transfer Method:  the effervescence is produced by secondary fermentation in the bottle, which allows for the additional complexity, but then the wine is transferred out of the individual bottles into a larger tank after it has spent the desired amount of time on yeast, which eliminates some costly stages of the production. This method aims to achieve some of the complex flavours originated through the traditional method while avoiding the expensive costs of riddling and disgorging.

View The Traditional Method