Should My Wine Be Fizzy?

Should My Wine Be Fizzy?

Should My Wine Be Fizzy?

Ever noticed a little spritz in your white or red and wondered if it should be there? It might give a slight hiss on opening, or have a tingle to taste. Well, with the help of winemaker Amy Farnsworth from Amoise in Hawkes Bay, here’s the low down on what that spritz is about. 

The Short Version

A spritz in still wine comes about in two ways - from re-fermentation in bottle OR from residual carbon dioxide left in the wine after the initial ferment. In the case of the former, re-fermentation, the wine will have a stinky, yeasty flavour. While it’s not bad for you, this isn’t how the producer intended the wine to taste, and we recommend not drinking it.

In the case of the latter, where the spritz comes from residual carbon dioxide from its fermentation in the winery, it's still a finished wine. It won’t be yeasty to taste, and in fact it can bring some freshness and vibrancy to the wine. If you don’t like the spritz, a decant or quick shake of the bottle after opening (with closure on of course), will help it dissipate.

The Detail - Winemaking 101

Wine is made when grape sugar is fermented by yeast into alcohol. The byproduct of fermentation is the gas carbon dioxide (CO2). Sparkling wines like Champagne and Pet-Nat are made with a deliberate fermentation in bottle, so the CO2 is trapped under the pressure of closure, dissolved in the wine until the glorious moment you open it. When making still wine, fermentation is all done before bottling, so the CO2 is mostly released.

Spritziness in ‘still’ wine comes about in two ways, and both are caused by the presence of this natural byproduct of fermentation, CO2

Re-fermentation - A Winemaker’s Nightmare 

The first is a situation nobody wants - the wine is re-fermenting in bottle. It may have had some residual sugar, or a secondary fermentation, known as malolactic fermentation that most reds and some whites go through, hasn’t finished. 

We have to say, after years of slurping vino professionally, that this is very rare. Winemaking, as well as being intuitive and creative, is also a precise and measured pursuit. Fining and filtration to remove yeast, and the addition of the preservative sulphur dioxide to prohibit re-fermentation, are common practice. Producers like Amy from Amoise however, choose to make wine naturally without fining, filtration or any additions including sulphur dioxide. Amy is therefore vigilant about having the wines checked before bottling -

I send samples to a local lab to verify the reading of residual sugar (RS) and completion of malolactic fermentation (because I don't filter or sulphur my wines).

I am looking for bone dry wines that have completed malo!”

Safe in the knowledge that her wines won’t re-ferment in bottle, how does Amy know if another wine is? “If I taste 'ferment' characteristics that are yeasty and not like a finished wine then I would think the wine has re-fermented in bottle.” 

The Deliberate Spritz

The second way a spritz can come about in your wine is from residual CO2 left after the initial fermentation in the winery, despite the fact that the ferment is complete. This is because the gas is naturally soluble in wine, known as dissolved carbon dioxide (DCO2). As well as contributing a spritz, it brings a tartness to taste (it dissolves as carbonic acid). Furthermore, it’s a natural preservative, protecting from oxidation and spoilage. So it can act as a clever tool both in the sensory perception of the wine and in its preservation. Amy measures it with a carbodoseur, where “the higher the reading, the more spritzy the wine.” She also gives careful consideration to the sensory effect - 

“My wines usually retain a high level of DCO2 naturally, so I go by taste. It’s a bonus that there is more DCO2 because it adds a layer of protection for my wine as there is no antioxidant (sulphur dioxide). For a white, a high level of DCO2 can be a part of the freshness and acidity of the wine. This year my Albariños were both reading on the high side but I thought the natural spritz was in balance with the fruit and didn't overpower the wine, so I didn't adjust the gases.

In a red wine, too much spritz can accentuate the tannins and make it astringent on the palate, but it depends on the style!

For my Cab Franc I wouldn't want elevated levels of spritz, because that would take away from the flavours and make the wine taste 'hard'. However my Gamays are both naturally high in DCO2 because of the way they are made, and I enjoy a little bit of lift on the back palate as it is a lighter style of wine.”

If the producer wants to remove DCO2 before bottling, they will sparge the wine. This involves pumping the inert gas nitrogen through it, drawing CO2 out from its soluble state to become a gas again.

Embracing the Spritz

We’ve tasted Amy’s excellent 2023 Albariño, and the slightly higher CO2 levels she’s deliberately left in the wine does indeed exhibit itself as vibrant freshness that’s a part of the wine. 

This brings us to highlight a delightful obscurity in the world of wine, Tkakoli (pronounced chock-oh-lee).  The sweetheart of the Basque region in northern Spain, it’s a light, dry, aromatic white that’s bottled quickly after ferment, to retain a bright, refreshing spritz. It has summer written all over it, try it.

We have Amy’s excellent 2023 Amoise releases available in store and online.