If you visit Napa Valley, you absolutely must visit Mumm Napa. You will learn so much. The tour is phenomenal. The tour guide will teach you all about the traditional method and show you how it works. After that you will relax in a beautiful room, with an amazing view, and an abundance of some of the most delicious wines you will ever drink. (images below.) Although you may not be able to enjoy French champagne regularly, sparklings made via traditional method will bring you very close. Champagne is always made this way, as are most cavas (sparkling wine from Spain), and most of the Napa Sparklings.
When browsing sparkling wine in the store you will often see the phrase “méthode traditionelle” or “méthode champenoise.” This is the process of giving sparkling wine (and this kitchen) it’s bubbles. The fine bubbles of sparkling wine are produced during the secondary fermentation. Secondary fermentation produces the bubbles but sparkling wine undergoes primary fermentation just like any other wine. Primary fermentation is the initial step when the natural sugar from the grapes is converted to alcohol. With the traditional method, this secondary fermentation occurs in the bottle. If the wine is not produced this way, secondary fermentation takes place in large tanks. The bubbles produced in the bottle are much finer and the differences is obvious with two glasses of wine side by side.
The traditional method entails much more than secondary fermentation in tanks. The cuvée (the wine blend before secondary fermentation) is bottled with a small amount of sugar (liqueur de tirage) and yeast. A temporary cap is placed on the bottles which are then riddled to collect the yeast sediment in the neck. Riddling used to be performed by hand, each bottle was shaken and turned then dropped back in the rack at a steeper angle each day. This is now performed by machines. The temporary cap and sediment are removed during the process of disgorging. Today the sediment in the neck is frozen to prevent loss of much liquid. After disgorging, the dosage is added to the bottle and the cork is placed. The sugars in the dosage balance the acidity of the wine as secondary fermentation consumes most of the sugar.