Have you ever wondered how champagne is made? What are the magical ingredients that make it sparkle and create the unique flavor and aroma? The answer is simple: yeast. But not just any yeast – champagne yeast. And it all starts with that little bottle of yeast you see at your local brewing store or online.
What is Champagne Yeast?
Champagne yeast is a type of yeast that is used in the production of sparkling wines, including Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, and other sparkling wines. It is a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, one of the most common yeasts used in winemaking. The yeast is added to the wine during the secondary fermentation, which is the process that creates the bubbles in the wine.
The primary role of the yeast is to convert the sugars in the wine into alcohol and carbon dioxide. During the secondary fermentation, the yeast consumes the sugars once again, producing more alcohol and carbon dioxide. However, this time around, the carbon dioxide cannot escape as it can in the primary fermentation. Instead, it stays trapped in the bottle, dissolving into the wine, and creating the famous bubbles that we all know and love in our sparkling wines.
The Bottling Process
Once the secondary fermentation is complete, the wine is bottled, and the bottles are sealed with a crown cap or cork. The trapped carbon dioxide increases the pressure inside the bottle and creates the bubbles we observe when the bottle is opened. The wine is then aged in the bottle for a minimum of 15 months (for non-vintage Champagne) or three years (for vintage Champagne), allowing the yeast to break down dead yeast cells and create more complex flavors.
But how do winemakers achieve this second fermentation and get the yeast into the bottle?
How is the Yeast Added to the Wine?
The yeast is usually added to the wine in a process called “tirage,” which involves adding a mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast to the base wine. The mixture is then bottled, and the secondary fermentation begins, usually taking around six weeks to two months.
Winemakers use carefully selected strains of yeast, like champagne yeast, to ensure the best possible effect. They select the yeast strains based on characteristics such as alcohol tolerance, temperature sensitivity, and the desired aroma and flavor profile. Different yeast strains can produce markedly different flavors, so your choice of yeast can be the difference between a wine that’s enjoyable or one that’s remarkable.
Using Other Yeasts in Sparkling Wine Production
While champagne yeast is the most common strain used in the production of sparkling wines, other yeast strains can also be used. In fact, some winemakers prefer to use other yeast strains to achieve specific flavors or aromas in their wines. For example, the yeast used in the production of Prosecco is often a strain called Masi which is known for producing floral, fruity aromas.
The next time you open a bottle of sparkling wine, remember the tiny but mighty organisms that created those bubbles and unique flavors. Champagne yeast is not just an ingredient in the production of Champagne and other sparkling wines; it is a crucial element that makes them what they are. With the right yeast strain, winemakers can create an array of flavors and aromas, each unique to its style and region.
So, the next time you see a bottle of champagne yeast at your local brewing store or online shop, remember the magic that’s inside that tiny bottle.