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A carbonated beverage is one that includes carbon dioxide that has been dissolved in water. This gas makes the beverage bubbly and fizzy.
The process of carbonation can occur naturally. Water from certain mineral springs is carbonated because of natural geological processes or phenomena, often related to volcanic activity.
It has long been believed that naturally carbonated waters, such as those from mineral springs, possess curative properties. In the 19th century, “taking the waters” was a popular vacation activity, as people traveled to these mineral springs to drink the naturally carbonated water.
Some well-known naturally carbonated waters are Badoit, Gerolsteiner, Wattwiller, Ferrarelle, Borsec, Perrier, and Apollinaris. You may or may not recognize these names, but they are considered high end in the world of bottled water.
Carbonated water has always been desirable, so scientists and researchers learned how to create this kind of carbonation artificially. William Brownrigg was the first to use carbon dioxide to aerate water, and this was in 1740.
In 1767, Joseph Priestly invented carbonated water by infusing it with carbon dioxide. This process went commercial in 1781 when Thomas Henry built the first factory to produce artificially carbonated water for sale.
The first US patent for “the means of mass manufacture of imitation mineral waters” was issued in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina. The first carbonated soda, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, was developed and sold in 1866.
Beer has been around as long as people have, and beer is naturally carbonated as well. Carbonation in beer occurs during the fermentation process, when the yeast dissolves the sugars and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide.
In millennia past, brewers were not always able to preserve the natural fermentation in beer since the containers it was stored in were far from airtight. Still, the idea that alcoholic beverages could – and maybe even should – be carbonated is nowhere near a new concept.
Wine is also part of human history and that includes carbonation. Effervescence in wine has been documented by ancient Greek and Roman historians, and there are some even older references as well.
The process of naturally occurring carbonation from fermentation was not well understood. Wine makers blamed fairies and evil spirits, or the phases of the moon.
By the early Middle Ages, it was known that wines produced in the Champagne region of France had a tendency to sparkle. At this time, it was considered to be a fault and not a desirable feature.
In the 17th century, Benedictine monk Dom Perignon, who was the cellar master at the Abbey of Hautvillers, was instructed to find a way to eliminate the bubbles from the bottles of wine. This was of particular concern because at the time, fizzy wine was considered to be the “devil’s brew.”
Around the same time, or perhaps even a bit earlier, the British recognized the value of effervescent wine and sought to preserve the bubbles during the bottling process. Scientist Christopher Merret even presented a paper that explained how to force the fermentation process by adding sugar before bottling it.
Today, the only wine that can use the appellation “Champagne” is wine that is grown in the Champagne region from Champagne grapes. The five growing regions are Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, and The Aube.
The process of making champagne is strictly controlled by the Appellation d’Origine Controlée. Any sparkling wine produced outside this method cannot be labeled or sold as Champagne.
The grape varieties that are allowed to be used for the cuvée include Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, which are the most widely used. Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Petit Meslier, and Arbane are also Champagne grapes.
The most common mix is two-thirds red grapes and one-third Chardonnay grapes. The grapes are fermented into a still white wine.
Once the wine is bottled, yeast and sugar is added to the bottles and a second fermentation process is begun. In the second fermentation, the yeast cells die and release carbon dioxide.
That carbon dioxide is trapped in the bottle, and over the next 15 months (or longer) the Champagne slowly becomes carbonated and bubbly. It is then clarified, sweetened, sealed, and sold.
Other Sparkling Wines
The process by which Champagne is carbonated is known as the Méthode Traditionnelle, and certainly other winemakers can use that process as well.
Other ways to introduce carbonation into wines are the tank (Charmat) method, which also relies on a second fermentation but that second fermentation happens in the vat, and the ancestral method, in which fermentation is stopped by refrigeration. The wine is then bottled and the fermentation is allowed to continue.
Wines can also be carbonated much the same way that sodas are. Liquid carbon dioxide can be introduced to make the wine fizzy.
France: French wines created using the traditional Méthode Champenoise, but outside the Champagne region so they cannot receive the appellation, include Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne and Crémant de Loire.
Chile: Chile has been making sparkling wines since 1879 in varieties ranging from blanc de blanc to blanc de noir to sparkling rosé. They also produce a naturally carbonated Pinot wine blended with fresh strawberry pulp.
Italy: Italian winemakers produce Prosecco, Asti, and Lambrusco. Prosecco is made with the Glera grape.
Asti sparkling wine tends to be lower in alcohol and very fruity. It is fermented in a pressurized vat to trap the carbon dioxide and preserve the carbonation.
Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine made with indigenous red grapes.
South Africa: South African Méthode Cap Classique is typically fruity and fermented using traditional methods and grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, and Chenin blanc. A sparkling red Pinotage is also produced.
Spain: Spain has its own sparkling wine, Cava, which is made with the traditional method and aged for nine months. White Cava is made with Macabeo, Xarello, and Parellad grapes, and Garnacha or Monastrell are added to produce rosé Cava.
Canada: Grape growing conditions in Canada are similar to those in the Champagne region, so Canadian sparkling wines are establishing themselves in the international markets. Most of their wines are fermented using the traditional method, and grape varieties include Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Vidal Blanc, and Gamay.
Icewine Dosage is unique to Ontario and is made by adding Canadian icewine to a traditionally produced sparkling wine.
Portugal: Espumante is produced throughout Portugal, but certified quality Espumante from DOC Bairrada is made with the traditional Champagne method. It is stamped with the Vinho Espumante de Qualidade Produzido em Região Determinada (VEQPRD) certification.
Australia: Australia is an up-and-comer in the sparkling wine world, and several well-known French Champagne houses have invested in Australian sparkling wines. Most Australian wine is produced in Tasmania, using traditional fermentation methods and Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and sometimes Pinot Meuniere grapes.
Australian winemakers also put out a sweet, sparkling Shiraz wine.
Hungary: Hungarian wineries produce a sparkling wine known as pezsgő. They are typically fermented using the Charmat method, but some also use the traditional fermentation method.
Grapes used include Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Riesling, Muscat Ottonel, and Muscat Lunel, as well as native Hungarian grapes such as Olaszrizling, Királyleányka, Kékfrankos, Hárslevelű, Furmint, Kéknyelű, and Juhfark.
Germany: Sekt or Qualitätsschaumwein, as defined by the Court of Justice of the European Union regulation, must contain at least 10% alcohol and 44 psi pressure in the bottle. It is most often fermented using the Charmat method.
Deutscher Sekt must be made exclusively from German grapes, and Sekt bestimmter Anbaugebiete (b.A.) can only be produced from grapes grown in one of the 13 quality wine regions. The better Sekt sparkling wines are typically made with Riesling, Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, and Pinot noir grapes.
Austria: Austria also produces Sekt wines, but uses the traditional methods of fermentation. White wines with a golden hue are made with Welschriesling and Grüner Veltliner grapes, and rosé Sekt wines are made from the Blaufränkisch grape.
Eastern Europe: The former Soviet Republic produced a sweet sparkling wine known as Sovetskoye Shampanskoye. The name lives on as wineries in present-day Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus, and Moldova make wines with that label.
America: American sparkling wines run the gamut from high-end bottles created in traditional method to low-cost wines artificially injected with carbon dioxide to produce fizz.
California is one of the premier wine regions in the United States and sparkling wines are made here from Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot blanc, Muscatel, Riesling, Traminer, and Chasselas grapes. American viticulture laws allow winemakers to use the term “Champagne” if that label was in use before 2006, but they have to identify the actual place of origin.
The Finger Lakes region of New York is also known for its wine, and traditionally fermented sparkling wines are made here from Riesling, Chardonnay, and Pinot noir grapes.