Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Riddling – no, it’s not telling tough, puzzling stories with veiled double meanings.  It’s a process used in the making of sparkling wine (champagne - under the traditional "Methode Champenoise".)

First, some very basics in wine making.

Grape juice has sugar; yeast is added and it ferments the juice, consuming the sugar - producing alcohol, carbon dioxide and heat.  Made in unsealed containers, ‘still’ wine has no bubbles.

In making a sparkling wine, first the winemaker makes a still wine (no bubbles) and puts it into a champagne bottle.

Then, to make the bubbles, a small amount of sugar and yeast is added to the wine in the bottle.

A bottle cap (like a Coke bottle cap) seals the bottle and it is set aside to referment; this traps the carbon dioxide bubbles produced by the fermentation of the added sugar and yeast.  This process also traps the dead yeast cells in the bottle.

After appropriate rest, it’s time to remove the yeast residue.  The bottles are put in A-frame holders and the riddling process begins.

Over several weeks of periodic turning and tapping of the bottle, the yeast residue slowly moves toward the cap.  (The video shows the riddling process.)

Now it’s time to disgorge the residue.  The bottles are set upside down in a freezing brine solution to freeze the yeast sediment and form a "plug" near the cap.  The bottles are turned upright, the cap is removed and the trapped gas shoots the frozen plug (with the spent yeast) out of the bottle.

Some extra sparkling wine tops off the bottle and a cork is added to seal the bottle.

The cork seal keeps the carbon dioxide in the sparkling wine (the wire cage over the cork prevents any possible premature decorking from the high pressure contained in the bottle.)

Chill your sparkling wine prior to serving.

To remove the cork, keep the cork pointed in a safe direction and remove the foil around the cork and wire cage (keep a thumb on the cork, just in case.)

With the cage removed, hold the cork in one hand (usually under a towel) and the base of the bottle in the other.

Turn the bottle, not the cork, slowly and gently.  You want the cork to ease off with a soft "whoof" (with the cork in your hand,) not with a “pop” – and the cork sailing across the room.

Usually, a tall, thin sparkling wine glass is best to extend the life of the bubbles in the wine (the flat, broad glass allows the gas to escape faster.)

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