Méthode Traditionnelle Guide

Méthode Traditionnelle is the French name for “Traditional Method” which stands for the time-honored process of how champagne is made outside of the Champagne region. This comprehensive guide provides a detailed overview of the step-by-step process involved in crafting Méthode Traditionnelle, a classic and traditional sparkling wine production method.

Three Champagne coupes on a golden tray in a moody setting.

Why I’m sharing this article

Sparkling wine, Champagne, Cava, Cuvée, Méthode Traditionnelle. When it comes to bubbles it can all get a bit blurry with so many terms and techniques out there. But once the cork pops and you’re fizzing with some insights, a whole new world opens up and you’ll be even more spoilt for choice.

Having worked in the wine industry for over a decade now, I made it my mission to debunk the world of wine. This complete guide provides a detailed overview of all steps involved in crafting Méthode Traditionnelle wines.

For more easy wine tips, make sure to check out the following articles:

What is Méthode Traditionnelle?

The “Méthode Traditionnelle” is characterized by a secondary fermentation process that takes place inside the bottle, followed by the intricate riddling and disgorging process. This produces the finest and most persistent bead and gives the wine its complex flavors. The elaborate technique requires a lot of skill and attention to detail, and it can take several years to produce a single bottle of sparkling wine.

Méthode Traditionnelle is used to produce sparkling wines in many regions around the world, including the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. While the Champagne region remains the most famous and prestigious producer of sparkling wine, many other regions have developed their unique styles and flavor profiles using this time-honored method.

History of Méthode Traditionnelle and Champenoise

The first documented use of the term “Méthode Champenoise” (Champagne method) dates back to the year 1825 when it was used in a publication by the Champagne house of Veuve Clicquot. The term “Méthode Traditionnelle” was later adopted by the European Union as the official name for the method, as Champagne is a protected designation of origin and can only be used to refer to sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France.

Two vintage Champagne coupes with a golden tray in a moody setting.

The Méthode Traditionnelle Process

Step 1: Harvesting the Grapes

The first step in the Méthode Traditionnelle process is harvesting the grapes. The grapes must be picked at the perfect time to ensure the right balance of sugar and acidity. This is typically done by hand to avoid damaging the grapes, and only the best grapes are selected for use in the wine.

Step 2: Pressing the Grapes

After the grapes are harvested, they are pressed to extract the juice. The juice is then placed in tanks to settle and clarify for a few days. The clear juice is then transferred to another tank to begin the fermentation process.

Step 3: Primary Fermentation

During primary fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugar in the grape juice and converts it into alcohol. This process takes about 2-3 weeks, and the wine is left on its lees (dead yeast cells) to develop flavor and texture.

Step 4: Blending and Bottling

After the primary fermentation, the winemaker will blend different vintages, vineyards, and grape varietals to create the desired flavor profile which is called “assemblage”. This wine is not very pleasant by itself as it’ll be too acidic. 

Once in the bottle, a small amount of wine, sugar, and yeast – also known as “Liqueur de tirage” is added to each bottle. The liqueur has to contain 18 grams of sugar to create 6 bars (600 kPa) inside the bottle. The amount of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) has to be 0.3 gram per bottle as it is regulated by the European Commission (Regulation 1622/2000, 24 July 2000).

When the Liqueur de tirage has been added, the bottles are sealed with a temporary crown cap.

Step 5: Secondary Fermentation

During secondary fermentation, the wines are stored horizontally and left to age on their lees anywhere between a few months and up to 7 years or even longer depending on the winemaker’s preference and quality of the wine.

The yeast consumes the added sugar and produces carbon dioxide, which is trapped in the bottle and creates the bubbles in the wine.

Step 6: Riddling and Disgorging

After secondary fermentation is complete, the wine is riddled, or turned upside down, to move the lees to the neck of the bottle. The neck is then frozen, and the lees are disgorged, or removed, from the bottle.

Riddling, also known as “rumuage” in French, is the process of moving the sediment of lees (spent yeast cells) remaining in the bottle from the second fermentation to rest in the neck of the bottle for easy removal which is called disgorging. The bottles are placed on special racks called riddling racks or “pupitres” in French that hold them at a 35° angle.

During riddling, the bottle neck is gradually tilted downwards and rotated in small increments, both clockwise and counterclockwise. This process is carried out once a day or every two days in Champagne. Over a period of 10 to 14 days (or 8 to 10 weeks for Champagne), the position of the bottle is gradually straightened, with the lees settling in the neck.

After the bottles have undergone riddling, disgorging is performed to remove the sediment and clarify the wine. The process typically involves freezing the neck of the bottle in a freezing solution, which solidifies the sediment and forms an ice plug. The bottle is then opened, and the pressure in the bottle expels the frozen sediment, leaving behind clear wine.

Step 7: Dosage and Corking

After disgorging, a small amount of wine and sugar, called the dosage, is added to the bottle to balance the acidity and sweetness of the wine. The bottle is then corked and wired shut to keep the pressure inside the bottle.

Step 8: Aging and Release

Finally, the wine is aged in the bottle for another 3-6 months to develop its flavor and complexity. They’re then labeled and are ready for release and enjoyment.

Three Champagne coupes on a golden tray in a moody setting.

FAQ

Which grape varieties are used for Méthode Traditionnelle?

Authentic Méthode Traditionnelle wines including Champagne are crafted from a blend of three renowned grape varieties – Chardonnay (a white grape), Pinot Noir (a red grape), and Pinot Meunier (another red grape).

What’s the difference between Méthode Traditionnelle and Méthode Champenoise?

“Méthode Champenoise” (Champagne method) refers to the same detailed Méthode Traditionnelle process although it is only allowed to be used for wines made in the region of Champagne.

What is the Méthode Traditionnelle process called in other countries?

The traditional method of producing sparkling wine, known as “método tradicional” in Spain and Portugal, “metodo classico” or “metodo tradizionale” in Italy, and “klassische Flaschengärung” in Germany, is used to produce Cava in Spain, Espumante in Portugal, and Franciacorta in Italy. Additionally, South African wines from the Western Cape region are labeled with the term “Methode Cap Classique” to indicate their production using the traditional method.

What is Millésme or vintage champagne?

“Millésime” or “Millésime” or “Vintage” Champagne is made from grapes harvested in a particular year that is deemed exceptional. These Champagnes are often considered to be of higher quality and the wines must mature for at least three years compared to non-vintage Champagne wines.

How long are Méthode Traditionnelle wines aged for?

As per the Méthode Traditionnelle, all wines are aged for at least 18 months before the disgorging process. This extended aging period allows for the development of complex flavors.

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