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Sparkling wine (Sekt)
Sparkling wine (in German, Sekt or Schaumwein) is extremely popular in Germany. The annual per capita consumption of about five liters is the highest in the world.
The general trend toward quality improvements has prompted many producers, both wine estates and growers' cooperatives, to add sparkling wine to their portfolios as a specialty - and they've done so with great success. Their sparkling wines not only offer high quality, but also a vast range of individual styles unrivaled by producers of high volume brands.
Sparkling wine is produced by means of a second fermentation. A mixture of sugar and yeast (the tirage) is added to the base wines (the cuvée) so that a second fermentation will occur. The carbon dioxide naturally produced during fermentation remains in the wine and is the source of its characteristic feature, bubbles.
The quality of a sparkling wine depends primarily on the quality of the base wines, and secondly, the method of production. Base wines that are well-suited for sparkling wine production should have an alcohol content of 80 - 85 grams/liter and a total acidity of 7 - 10 g/l. White wines should be low in tannins and have a low pH value. Vintners often select individual, small batches of wine for their sparkling wine production and favor the traditional method of removing the yeast from the bottle.
There are three main methods of production:
The traditional or classic method, whereby the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. The individual bottles are then riddled - either mechanically or by hand - until the yeast has settled as a deposit in the neck of the bottle, after which the yeast is removed (disgorged), but the wine remains in the bottle. This is the most labor-intensive and expensive method and, justifiably, can be indicated on the label (fermented in this bottle). However, recent studies have shown that there are noticeable quality differences among sparkling wines produced in this manner, depending on how long a wine is aged on the lees, ie remains in contact with the dead yeast cells, after the second fermentation.
As long as the wine has lees contact, it remains relatively stable. After disgorgement, however, the aging process sets in, and thus, sparkling wines should be consumed within one to three years thereafter.
The transfer method, whereby the second fermentation takes place in the bottle, the contents are transferred under pressure into a tank, separated from the yeast deposit through filtration and then re-bottled. This method dispenses with the labor-intensive and expensive manual procedures described above (riddling, disgorgement) and can also be indicated on the label (bottle fermented or fermented in the bottle).
The tank or bulk method, also called the Charmat method , whereby the second fermentation takes place in bulk pressure tanks, lees contact is minimal and the wine is bottled under pressure. This method saves time and money and is well-suited to the volume production of commercial wineries.
"Sparkling wine" is a broad, umbrella term. Within the European Union, uniform and binding regulations for the labeling and packaging of sparkling wines have existed since 1986. For example, the components of a product labeled Deutscher Sekt (German sparkling wine) must originate 100% from Germany. Blending regulations are analogous with those for still wines, ie multi-regional cuvées are permitted, but cannot bear the name of a specified region on the label.
Sekt b.A. or Qualitätsschaumwein b.A. (b.A. means "from a specified region") must indicate on the label the name of the region from which the grapes originated. A smaller geographical unit is also permitted, e.g. the name of a vineyard site, if at least 85% of the wine originates from that appellation. The same is true if a vintage or grape variety is named on the label: at least 85% of the wine must be from that vintage or grape variety. These sparkling wines are subject to quality control testing that includes a sensoric examination as well.
We can assume that today, varietal sparkling wines account for more than ten percent of all German sparkling wine production. Even the large German producers have acknowledged this trend and are producing, for example, high-quality Riesling Sekt. German Winzersekt (a vintners' vintage varietal sparkling wine) is respected for its individual character and high quality. These are varietal sparkling wines produced by wine estates and cooperatives of growers or producers, using only the grapes they grow themselves. Furthermore, Winzersekt must be produced by the traditional or classic method of bottle fermentation. The vintage, varietal and producer's name must appear on the label.
In response to consumers' increased quality consciousness and awareness that the quality of the components determines a product's overall quality, producers are using higher-quality base wines for their sparkling wine production. Wine-knowledgeable consumers recognize the same varietal characteristics in the sparkling versions that they are familiar with in varietal wines. Regional and national competitions have also contributed to quality improvements. The standards for winning an award are very high. Only the best cuvées are permitted to bear the awards on the bottle.
Grape Varieties and Flavor
The flavor of the grape is perceptible in still as well as sparkling wine. Winzersekte and varietal sparkling wines that appeal to even the most discerning palate are produced in nearly every German wine-growing region.
Varietal characteristics are quite diverse:
* Riesling, Elbling - racy, pronounced acidity
* Silvaner, Kerner - more neutral, with a refined bouquet
* Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) - full-bodied, somewhat softer and more flowery
* Huxelrebe, Morio-Muskat, Gewürztraminer - pronounced bouquet
* Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) red wines and Weissherbst rosé wines - velvety, with a distinctive bouquet.
Compared with still wine, it is far more difficult to standardize the quality of a sparkling wine. A high amount of sugar-free extract is desirable in a still wine and regarded as a sign of high quality; a sparkling wine with high extract values is likely to be too full-bodied, i.e. lacking the sleek character associated with Sekt. Those who prefer handcrafted, distinctive cuvées to popular brands are in luck. The former are widely available at wine estates, cooperatives, wine shops and restaurants. Look for the following quality criteria on the label: origin, grape variety, method of production and the quality control test number (in German, the A.P.Nr.). There are, of course, commercial bottlings that also meet these criteria, including "buyer's own brand" - as with wine, the quality-consciousness of the producer is a decisive factor. The overall quality of the product depends on the quality of its components.
Thanks to the efforts of innovative producers in recent years, the negative, cheap image of Perlwein has been improved and interesting, high-quality products are on the market.
Perlwein is a carbonated wine with 1 - 2.5 atmospheres. The carbon dioxide is produced during fermentation and/or added before bottling. It is sold simply as Perlwein or, if the components are from one specified region, Qualitätsperlwein b.A.
©2003 Deutsches Weininstitut, info[at]deutscheweine(dot)de, Impressum