English bubbly is a sparkling wine made in the cooler regions of England. Sparkling wines generally refer to wines that contain high levels of carbon dioxide, creating bubbles in the wine when the bottle is opened. While these types of wine are seemingly identical to champagne, they are referred to as sparkling wines because they are produced outside of the Champagne region of France.
History of English Bubbly
England has a history of both great success and almost complete devastation, especially when it comes to producing wine. During the first century AD, the Romans brought the processes of vinification and viticulture to England. Shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066, England had already given rise to around 50 documented vineyards.
However, although the industry flourished at its start, weather changes and plagues soon devastated production. The final blow to winemaking in England occurred when Henry VIII called for the dissolution of monasteries where the bulk of the remaining vineyards were housed.
Wine production remained at a standstill in England until the mid-1940s (following World War II) when the English recognized winemaking to be viable on a large scale. Since then, winemaking has once again begun to flourish with English vineyards producing many high-quality still and sparkling wines.
Champagne versus English Bubbly
Although many credit the French with the invention of champagne, recent research suggests that the British invented the methods and means for producing sparkling wines at least 20 years prior.
In fact, champagnes and sparkling wines need to be cased in the glass bottles capable of withstanding the pressures of double fermentation, and these glass bottles were first invented and used by the British. As early as 1662, there are records indicating that the British were adding additional sugars to imported still wines to incite a second fermentation process within the bottle, thus creating bubbly.
English Bubbly Vinification
The process of creating English bubbly begins just like the process of making any wine, in that it starts with the growth and harvest of the grapes. Grapes used in English bubbly grow in cooler climates and are harvested while still slightly unripe.
The grapes then enter the crushing and pressing stage, during which they are macerated to release the sugars and liquids within. The resulting mixture, called must, is pressed to separate the liquids from the skins and pits to ensure that the liquid maintains a light color and doesn”t leech additional flavors from the must.
The next step in the vinification process is fermentation. In this stage, the liquid from the previous stage is placed in a large vat with yeast that reacts with sugar to produce alcohol. Most varietals of grapes used to make English bubbly will generate an alcohol content of around 11 percent. At this point, the similarities between making still wine and English bubbly end.
Double Fermentation and Bottling
After fermentation, the liquid (now considered wine because it has an alcohol content) has not yet become sparkling wine. To turn it into English bubbly, winemakers put the wine through a second round of fermentation.
Before the second fermentation takes place, the fermented wine is filtered to separate the spent yeast cells. Then it is immediately placed in another clean vat. Vintners add a small amount of sugar and introduce another batch of yeast. The wine is immediately bottled in champagne-style bottles and capped with a crown cork.
The wine bottles are rested on their sides in aging racks, with the second round of yeast still remaining inside. The resulting fermentation creates the additional alcohol and, most importantly, the carbon dioxide that provides the bubbles. As the yeast dies, it is dissolved into the wine through a natural process called autolysis, giving English bubbly its earthy taste.
When the second fermentation stage is complete, the remaining yeast must be removed from the wine. To do this, winemakers place the bottles in a riddling machine that inverts and shakes them for a week, bringing all the remaining yeast into the neck. The necks of the bottles are then placed in a freezing solution trapping the yeast in ice separate from the wine. At this point, winemakers remove the ice plug and insert the traditional champagne cork.