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RIDDLING is one step in the traditional method of making Champagne or sparkling wine, that helps to consolidate sediment prior to removal.

Madame Nicole-Barbe Clicquot objected to the often cloudy appearance of Champagnes of the early 1800s. Upon her husband's untimely death, the young widow became head of Champagne Clicquot. Determined to improve the appearance of her product, she found that shaking the bottles loosed sediment stuck to their sides. The sediment would eventually settle to the bottom if the bottles were left upright. To get the deposits closer to the neck, she used gravity, cutting holes in her kitchen table to place the bottles upside down. In 1810, she employed Anton Muller to improve and refine the process that came to be called riddling.

Instead of using remodeled kitchen tables, bottles are placed at a forty-five degree angle, necks-down, in specially built "A-frame" racks, called pupitres. A worker grabs the bottom of each bottle, giving it a small shake, an abrupt back and forth twist, and while slightly increasing the tilt, drops it back in the rack. This action recurs every one to three days over a period of several weeks. The shaking and twist is intended dislodge particles that have clung to the glass and prevent the sediments from caking in one spot; the tilt and drop encourage the particles, assisted by gravity, to move ever more downward; the time in between riddlings allows the particles to settle out of solution again.

Today this process is nearly entirely done by a machine invented in Spain in the 1970s. Since they handle hundreds of bottles simultaneously, gyropalettes are both much more efficient and much more consistent at consolidating sediments than the traditional hand process.

When riddling is finished, the sediment collected in the bottle neck is frozen to form a "plug" which the next step in the process removes (dégorgement or "disgorging"). After adjusting the level of fill and setting the sweetness, the product is corked, caged, labeled, and shipped to market.


RELATED LINKS: Sparkling Wines ... save the bubbles

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