Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
Is there a type of wine that is aged in bottles, stored in racks and physically turned by workers an inch or so weekly or monthly?
—Terry, Federal Way, Wash.
Yes, I believe you’re thinking of the “riddling” process in the traditional method of making sparkling wine. The person (or fancy robot) that does the turning is called a “riddler” and, yes, I know that is also the name of a Batman villain.
Traditional Champagne production is fascinating in that a secondary fermentation is taking place individually in every bottle. (Other types of sparkling wine production involve a secondary fermentation in large batches before bottling.)
Because of this, sediment—a byproduct of fermentation—ends up in each bottle. Most wine lovers don’t want cloudy sparkling wine, so the challenge is to get it out. Riddling is a way to consolidate all the sediment so it will be easier to extract. It’s tricky, because if you move a bottle too much, the sediment will dissipate. If you just leave it alone, it would tend to stick to the side of the bottle and be hard to remove.
A riddler uses gravity and a riddling rack, and a quick, small back and forth motion to gently coax the sediment toward the opening of the bottle, which during this process is sealed with a crown cap, like you find on a beer bottle. The process takes at least a couple of weeks, as the bottles are slowly rotated from their side to completely upside down with these small movements, usually every day or every other day. The “plug” of sediment that collects in the neck of the bottle is then frozen and removed in the process of disgorgement. As you might imagine, hand riddling is pretty labor intensive, so many sparkling houses have automated rotating riddling cages, or Gyropalettes, which can do the process automatically.
Please don’t riddle at home—every once in a while I get a question about it or see someone rotating the bottles in their cellar. I don’t recommend it: There’s no need to disturb the sediment in your aging wines and, in fact, if you leave the bottles still, the sediment will collect on one side and your wines won’t be cloudy or chewy.