Toasty Levels in Sparkling Wines
22nd March 2021
An expression in aroma and flavours that I really enjoy with sparkling wines is the usage of the word toasty. Both in aromas and flavours a sparkling wine can express this character, from those slices of bread lightly toasted either side on the lowest setting of the toaster to those you’ve forgotten you’d put under the grill and your smoke alarm was needed to remind you.
“The word ‘toast’, in fact, comes from the Latin word ‘tostum’, meaning ‘to burn or ‘scorch’. source justfunfacts
The nature and the chemistry/science: Many aromas and flavours of sparkling wines are delivered by the grapes themselves (many hold characters of their terroir also), though a large proportion originates from the chemistry side of things during the production process.
All grapes used in winemaking will showcase different qualities as well as the same grapes grown in different regions. The vine produces bunches of grapes annually and also express a certain element of the region it is grown in from the minerals within the soil to the rays of the sun or the freshness of a mid summer breeze. Nature showcases itself prominently in each wine produced.
Reactions can take place in the production process such as leaving the wine in the bottle on lees (leftover yeast particles from autolysis) which can deliver, especially when aged together, the wine a yeasty/toasty/nutty character. The contact the wine has in storage mostly that of oak barrels /chips which can deliver an expression to the wine that includes a toastiness from the oak. Another popular process is the toasting or charring to the required level and rather like your toast in the morning, lightly toasted or well done – Both variations are quite some way apart in both aromas and flavours.
‘Bread remains one of the UK’s favourite foods, with 99% of households buying bread – or the equivalent of nearly 12 million loaves are sold each day.’ source fabflour
Flavours and aromas found in sparkling wines are vast with delights such as tropical fruits, walnut, caramel, peach, honeysuckle, forest floor, wet stones and more. Freshness and youthfulness to complex and vintage, there are 100,000’s if not in the millions of labels that can be explored globally from Prosecco’s released only a few months after harvesting the grapes, but also rare labels hidden away in dark, damp cellars.
Oaky and Toasty
A popular expression of sparkling wines and desired by many is the oaky and toasty character. Not necessarily only obtained by storing wines in oak barrels (steel tanks can also express such characters). Another reason for the toasty character in sparkling wines is the Malliard reactions:
‘Initially described as a part of heat mediated chemical reactions, Maillard reactions can occur at lower temperatures mediated by the acidic environment of wines. The aromas created- primarily esters categorized as lactones- range from toast, smoke, and baked bread to spicy vanilla. The result is a broad range of aroma compounds creating complexity. The more complex the set of substrates, the more diverse the aroma profile created. Thus, the varied stylistic approaches to maturation of non-vintage, vintage, and ‘recently disgorged’ wines results in a profoundly different aroma and flavor profiles.’ source winescholarguild
Sparkling Wines and Toasty Levels:
We decided to put to the test 5 Gold Medal winning sparkling wines in the category of ‘Oaky & Toasty’ at the 2020 Glass of Bubbly Awards alongside the Trophy Winner for the category. Watch the video below for the results – The wines that took part are listed below:
Gold Medal Winners Oaky & Toasty
Codice Citra – Fenaroli Pecorino 36 months – Italy
Harkamp – Brut Reserve – Austria
Montecappone – Mirizzi – Italy
Motzenbäcker – 2015 Riesling Brut – Germany
Pjenušci Peršurić – Misal Prestige – Croatia
Trophy Winner Oaky & Toasty
Ferrari Trento – Perlé 2014 – Italy
Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.