How to Disgorge Champagne

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If making wine is hard, then making sparkling wine is beyond difficult. There are so many factors involved, especially if you're following the so-called methode traditional, in which the second fermentation happens in the bottle. Besides the challenge of maintaining the correct pressure and temperature during a second fermentation, there is the particular challenge of disgorging the champagne, or releasing the yeast from inside the bottle.

  • Remuage the champagne beforehand. The process of remuage, or riddling, champagne has been in use since the beverage was first invented. It ensures that all of the yeast that has been added to the bottle to aid in the second fermentation makes its way to the top of the neck, so it can be easily removed during disgorgement. The way to make sure this happens is to riddle the bottles. During the second fermentation, set the bottles in a rack that holds them at a 45 degree angle, with the neck facing down. Once a day, at a predetermined time, turn each bottle 1/4 turn. Do this for the entirety of the second fermentation. By the end, the turning of the remuage plus gravity will have pulled the yeast into a neat and tidy package, right at the lip of the bottle, ready to be removed.

  • Freeze the neck of the bottle. By doing so, you are freezing the yeast and the bit of wine around it. This will make it easy to remove as a solid piece of ice, as opposed to having to pour off liquid, which is a much less precise operation. To freeze the neck easily, apply a bit of liquid nitrogen to its top for 10 seconds and no more. If you do not have access to liquid nitrogen, you can freeze the top of the neck in an ice bath. It is much slower, but it works. Fill a bucket with three parts ice, one part water and a cup of salt. Stir the ice mixture and submerge the top of the neck of the bottle until frozen. This should take between 30 and 45 minutes.

  • Disgorge the yeast. The bottle should, at this point, be closed off with a bottle cap. Pointing the bottleneck down into an empty vessel, release the bottle cap. The iced yeast should shoot out easily. Immediately bring the bottle back upright and prepare it for dosage.

  • Add a little extra wine to make up for the volume lost from the disgorgement. This is called the dosage. The amount of sugar in the dosage will determine how sweet the champagne will ultimately be.

  • Cork the champagne. Using a pressurized machine, add the champagne cork to the neck of the bottle, adding the cage to keep the cork in place. If you do not have access to a pressurized corking machine, you can force in a champagne cork using champagne pliers. These are pliers with long, flat tongs that squeeze the bottom of the cork so it can fit into the bottleneck, then slip out once it is inside. After corking the bottle, you will need to manually add the cage and capsule to keep the cork in place.

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