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How Champagne Works


Enter the (Champagne) Riddler

Though the process of making champagne is mostly over once the cork goes into the bottle, there are a few other steps that have to happen before the bottle is ready for sale. Yeast continues to grow and split, giving the wine its flavor. However, the yeast has to be removed through a process called riddling. A person called the riddler places wine bottles upside down at a 75-degree angle, and turns them one-eighth of turn every day [source: Pandell]. A little shake and bump helps, too. This can be a mundane task, but it's necessary to allow the yeast to collect at the top for removal.

The yeast leaves the bottle through disgorging. Here's how it works: The bottle rests upside down in an ice-salt bath. A plug containing the dead yeast freezes at the neck of the bottle. The trick is removing that frozen plug without sacrificing the taste and quantity of the carefully crafted champagne.

Once the cork is removed by hand, the pressure of the carbon dioxide gas built up in the bottle forces the plug out. Doing this requires the loss of a controlled amount of champagne. To make up for it, a certain amount of white wine, brandy and sugar are added to the final product, to adjust the alcohol and sugar levels. Finally, the cork is placed back on the bottle and tightened down with wire. This last step raises the pressure again, keeping the bubbles inside until it's time to pop the cork.

This process results in four types of champagnes: A brut champagne is characterized as being very dry and not too sweet. Extra brut is the driest and least popular, according to wine specialist Stacy Slinkard. Sec champagne is dry, but not as dry as brut, and demi-sec or non-brut is the sweetest of them all.