When and where the first Traditional Method sparkling wine is born it is impossible to say, but it is certain that over the centuries many men contributed empirically and scientifically in perfecting its technique and methodology.
Let’s see together the main historical stages of the Traditional Method.
Until now, we know from the finds, such as the fossil vine section preserved at the Archaeological Museum of Casteggio, that the vine has been present since prehistoric times. Let us imagine that the first sparkling wine is born fortuitously, perhaps from the intuition and observation of a group of women.
In fact, the gentle prehistoric sex knew the breeding cycles of plants, distinguished plant species and knew their properties. Let’s assume that a group of women noticed that the grape juice carefully stored during the winter with the spring heat had a strange reaction: bubbles were formed. We think that the nectar of grapes with pleasant bubbles really pleased both the men and the women of the group. Let’s imagine, like all good things, discovery and therefore rudimentary knowledge were passed down from mother to daughter for centuries.
To date, the first written testimony is found in the Book of Psalms of the Holy Bible, which it tells that “a cup where wine foams is supported by the hands of Jehovah” (Psalm 75, verse 8-9). From the texts of the ancient Latins, Virgil, Propertius, Lucan, Columella and Pliny The Elder it is clear that the“Enotria tellus”is home to the sparkling wine.
In fact, we have solid evidence that the Romans were skilled producers of sparkling wine, in fact they produced two types: aigleucos and acinatici.
For aigleucos the bubbles were produced starting from a sweet must, obtained by adding honey and propolis. Later, to delay fermentation, they soaked the hermetically sealed dolia (wine containers) in cold water and concluded ripening in warm environments.
The bubbles of acinatici were obtained from the must of raisins, used alone or to make quiet wines, that is, without bubbles.
Vine-growing was abandoned due to the barbarian invasions, but fortunately it remained alive within the walls of convents and monasteries. Initially, for Christian clerics vine-growing was important to have wine for Mass, then to increase the revenue of their orders.
Later, the nobles also dedicated themselves to viticulture, because the fashion of offering wines produced from the owned vineyards spread. In the Middle Ages the consumption of wine with bubbles was widespread, as evidenced by the quotations in the chronicles of the holidays, in the texts of agriculture, biology and medicine.
In addition, it became so popular that it was necessary to establish its qualities.
For example, the famous medical treatise Regimen Sanitatis of the Salernitana School defines the requirements of a healthy wine. The qualities indicated are: “claris, vetus, subtile, maturum ac bene linfato, saliens, moderamine sumptum” (old and clear, sparkling but tempered, and calmly used).
EARLY MODERN ERA
Great intellectual ferment characterizes this historical period, both in the artistic and in the technical-scientific field. Thus, vine-growing, production techniques and therefore the methodologies for obtaining wine and sparkling wine were studied by biologists and doctors.
In Italy and the Papal States, the production of sparkling wines was very thriving, as evidenced by the numerous quotations.
For example, in the “De Naturali Vinorum Historia” of the papal physician Andrea Bacci are described the sparkling wines produced between Emilia-Romagna and the province of Pavia.
Bacci describes them as: “delituously biting, of sweet smell and sparkling wines for golden bubbles if they pour into the large stem glasses”.
In the book of the German doctor and naturalist Philipp Jacob Sachs we have perhaps the first testimony of the production in Insubria (Lombardy) of a rosé sparkling wine. The most accredited probability is that the rosé sparkling wine mentioned by Sachs was produced in the province of Pavia with Pignola grapes.
Two important innovations mark the history and therefore the evolution of sparkling wine: the first concerns containers and the second concerns corking. The new high-strength bottle, called the “English bottle“, was produced in 1632 by the Englishman Sir Kenelm Digby.
The “English bottle” together with the new closure with corks revolutionized the preservation and marketing of sparkling wine.
Also, in England, as the historian of French Andrè Simon tells, the first sparkling wine obtainedfrom quiet Champagne wine is born. At the time, England bought large quantities of quiet wine in bulk at very low prices from Europe, which was engulfed in a serious wine crisis. The wine, however, had a strong acidity, so the shrewd London traders understood that to increase sales they would have to mitigate it. Then, they added sugar and various spices and obtained soft and sweet sparkling wines.
The “London” sparkling wines were so successful that they prompted champagne winemakers to specialize in sparkling wine.
Sugar and yeast
In this historical period many scholars contributed to the refinement of the Traditional Method methodology and scientifically explained its chemical and physical processes. The pharmacist Francois of Chalon-sur-Marne published in 1837 the first works on the relationship between the amount of sugar contained in wine and the production of carbon dioxide. Francois’s studies formed the basic principles for limiting the continuous breakage of bottles.
The first fermentation studies were by the Italian Fabbroni, taken from Lenoir and defined by Pasteur. Pasteur demonstrated that yeast consists of microorganisms and therefore alcoholic fermentation is not only a chemical phenomenon. In addition, he found that the cells in good wine are spherical and those of bad wine are more elongated. The latter must be eliminated, because they sour the wine and also do not produce alcohol.
A further step if he had with the reproduction of yeasts in pure culture at the hands of the Danish mycologist Hansen.
Law of thermodynamic equilibrium
The physical phenomenon of bubbles was explained in 1884 by the law of thermodynamic equilibrium of the chemist French Henri Louis Le Châtelier. The law establishes the obligation of a necessary and constant balance between the gas molecules present in the wine in the steam phase and those dissolved in the wine.
Specifically, the gas molecules in the steam phase are those found in the portion of air under the cork of the sparkling wine bottle. When we uncork the bottle of sparkling wine the gas under the cork disperses and the balance established by the law of thermodynamic balance breaks.
Thus, the gas present in the wine tries unsuccessfully to quickly restore balance and pushes upwards. This bottom-up gas shift can never, of course, restore balance, but it will generate the crackling bubbles we love so much.
Traditional Method sparkling wine that we taste today is the result of the work of many men who over the centuries have improved its technique and taste with experiments and studies.
Of course, science has explained the chemical and physical phenomena of the Traditional Method, the technique has the merit of having innovated materials, for example high-strength glass bottles, but no one has so far revealed how a glass of Traditional Method can move different and sometimes even conflicting emotions in each of us.