The release of Bollinger's RD 2002 in the same month as Billecart-Salmon's Nicolas François Billecart 2002 has reignited the discussion over the best time to disgorge Champagne. Tyson Stelzer reports...
Disgorging the lees in Champagne: how it happens
After Champagne’s second fermentation in bottle, dead yeast cells (lees) remain in the bottle and contribute subtly to the wine’s complexity. The longer this process of autolysis persists the better, improving mouthfeel and longevity, and adding biscuity, bready nuances to the flavour.
Cleaning the wine of this lees sediment without losing its bubbles is something of an art. Traditionally, mature bottles were riddled in a wooden desk pierced with holes to hold the bottles sideways. Each bottle was given a quarter-rotation every day, and slowly tilted from horizontal to upside down to collect the lees sediment in the neck of the bottle.
In modern times, this riddling process has been largely taken over by gyropalettes, giant robotic arms that slowly rotate large cages of bottles. More consistent, if less romantic. After riddling, the sediment is settled on the inside of the crown cap. The neck of the bottle is then frozen, the cap released, and the plug of sediment shot out – disgorged (or dégorgé in French) – leaving perfectly clear wine behind.
Lees sediment settles in the bottle neck