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01 December 2022

Wine disgorging: what is it and what is it for? | Castello Banfi Wine Resort

The disgorging process allows the removal of sediment. Find out how it is performed and at what stage of wine production it takes place.

What is wine disgorgement and how it is performed

The disgorging of wine represents a fundamental step in the production of classic method sparkling wines, and in Banfi's case, our bubbles are produced according to this process in the Banfi Piemonte winery located in Strevi, in the province of Alessandria.

In addition to our open visit winery nestled among the Montalcino vineyards at the enchanting and evocative Castello Banfi Wine Resort estate, the Banfi winery also features another equally historic winery with an adjoining 50 hectares (46 of which are vineyards) in Piedmont. Here we produce quality sparkling wines, such as classic method and Charmat wines.

At what stage of the production is the disgorgement of sparkling wine performed?

Wine disgorgement is a process that involves the removal of fermentation residue from classic method sparkling wine bottles.

Classic method sparkling wines undergo a second fermentation in the bottle: the base wine cuvée, made with fine wines from the region (Piedmont in the case of Banfi Piemonte) is enriched with a liqueur de tirage, a mixture of sugars, minerals and yeasts that can trigger the re-fermentation of the wine and the so-called “presa di spuma” or fermentation in the bottle. This process results in the formation of residues and spent yeast, which compromise the crystalline clarity that characterizes Italian sparkling wines.

For this reason, the bottles are turned upside down and, through the complex process of remuage,  manual or mechanical, the residues are trapped toward the neck of the bottle, inside the bidule located under the crown cap.

It is at this stage that the wine is disgorged, that is, the crown cork with residue is removed and the new characteristic cork that distinguishes classic method sparkling wines is applied.

Wine disgorgement: meaning and origin of the name

The word "disgorging" by which the entire process of removing residue refers is the actual act of uncorking the bottle. The French word "dégorgement" is equally used in Italy to refer to this procedure (given the profound influence of French wine culture in the production of classic method sparkling wines) and it can be translated literally as "discharge" and it refers to the removal of residues. The two terms are used as synonyms.

Dégorgement: differences between manual and mechanical procedure

Within the intricate and complex production process, the disgorging of sparkling wine holds an important role, as it ensures the presentation of a crystal-clear sparkling wine with bright perlage and characteristic bubbles. In the past, this operation was performed by hand, even within the Banfi Piemonte winery, by experts in manual remuage and dégorgement à la volée, through skillful and accurate procedures that were the result of years of experience in this field.

Dégorgement à la volée: the traditional procedure

Dégorgement à la volée, or classic method disgorgement  by hand, involves uncorking the bottle upside down by hand, taking advantage of the pressure created inside it during refermentation and thus eliminating the residue inside the cork and bidule. It is then quickly straightened so as to reduce the spillage of the sparkling wine.

At this stage, it is possible to make up for the loss of liquid through a topping-up procedure with liquer d'expedition or liquer de dosage, a sugary mixture that embellishes classic method sparkling wines and helps enrich the sensory experience.

The difficulty of dégorgement à la volée made it essential to invent a mechanized procedure that would minimize or completely eliminate wine spillage. However, for fine formats or more special cuvées, we still use this manual technique, which we might call a true art, under the exclusive skills of expert master vintners, such as those at Banfi.

Dégorgement a la glace: the modern procedure

The mechanized procedure of disgorging wine or sparkling wine is called dégorgement a la glace. Bottles undergoing remuage are pre-washed from the pupitres (the special wooden boards on which they are placed with the neck facing down) and placed in special machines that freeze the bottle neck and crown cap thanks to a special salt compound that can bring the liquid and sediment to a temperature between -25°C and -30°C.

The machines thus proceed to turn the bottles upside down, which will end up with their necks facing upward: unlike in manual dégorgement, with the dégorgement a la glace the spent yeast and other residues trapped in the bidule will be frozen, without the risk of them falling into the bottle and clouding the wine again.

It is then possible to safely remove the frozen cork (the actual disgorgement of the classic method sparkling wine), refill the wine if necessary, and place the cork with its metal cage.

Dégorgement a la glace is, as mentioned earlier, the wine disgorgement procedure most commonly used by producers. However, watching a master vintner perform manual dégorgement is a true show, an experience not to be missed if you love wine and its production according to ancient traditions.

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