Over the next few nights, many of us will be rounding the bases of our final holiday parties of the year. In order to be gracious guests at these fêtes, we'll want to provide some sort of festive, boozy beverage for our friends and family. And does anything else say "I'm fancy!" quite like Champagne?
But a bottle of real, decent Champagne can cost a chunk of change that might not be readily available after buying all of those electric nose hair trimmers for Dad and nose drugs for your company holiday party. Maybe, when you finally go to cash in all of that change that you've been periodically scraping out of the bottom of your backpack and stashing in a Mason jar under your desk, its dollar value only amounts to a paltry, single-digit number.
Don't worry—we've got you covered. We are going to help you fool everyone into thinking you procured some solid Loire Valley shit. Because Champagne is basically just white wine with bubbles in it, right? Seems easy enough.
We bought a bottle of crappy $9 Pinot Grigio and asked Don Lee of PDT and Momofuku to stop by the VICE offices and show us how to turn it into magical bubbly. Turns out that any cheap, lazy bastard can ride in sparkly style—you just need some basic equipment.
There are two ways to do this. The first requires nothing but said crappy wine, a cream whipper or soda charger, and a couple of carbon dioxide cartridges (Don used the iSi kind). It will simply make your white wine sparkly. It's instant—whee!
The second, slightly more complex fermentation method will set you back a single packet of yeast (which go for about 60 cents each on Amazon) and a packet of sugar stolen from your office kitchen or local cafe. You'll also need one of those bottles with the rubber stopper on top attached to the lip with a little metal cage, as seen above. This process takes about 48 hours, but will actually alter the flavor of the wine to be more complex and Champagne-y.
Method 1: Let's do this.
First, create a distraction so that your party companions don't see that you're a phony who was too cheap to buy sparkling wine. When they're looking the other way, proceed.
You're going to want your wine to be as chilled as possible in order for it to best hold the bubbles. (Like soda, sparkling wine goes flat more easily when it's warm.)
Dump your entire bottle of crappy white wine into the cream whipper and put the top on.
Next, grab two of those soda cartridges. One by one, screw each into the whipper, shake the hell out of it for about ten seconds, and charge all of that crazy gas right into your Grigio (or Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc, or whatever you're using).
When it's good and charged, just pour it right into each champagne flute. You can return it to its original bottle if necessary, but it won't hold its carbonation as long.
Remember to tilt your glass so that you don't end up with flute full of all foam and no liquid.
Don says: not the best glass of Champagne to be had in the world, but not too shabby.
You can do your own secondary fermentation on any bottle of white wine. It even has a fancy, legit-sounding name: the Méthode Champenoise.
Get yourself some yeast. You're only going to need about ten itty bitty yeast granules. They're just big enough that you can count them out individually. See?
We're gonna do this secondary fermentation thing in that bottle with the rubber cork that we mentioned earlier. When we cap it, the yeast is going to (in Don's words) "eat sugar, fart CO2, and piss alcohol." It's also going to produce a little bit of heat. All of this hubbub is going to take that flat, mediocre wine and basically give it a makeover so amazing, you'll think you saw it on Jenny Jones.
Let's get started.
Pinch those ten or so yeast granules and drop them into that other bottle with the rubber stopper/cage-top thing. Do not use a screw cap bottle, or when your magic creation actually starts fermenting, it will explode and ruin everything.
Open the packet of sugar and pour it in there too. We used a packet of Sugar In the Raw that we found laying around.
You can use half of it or all of it.
Those terms that you've seen on bottles if you've ever actually gone shopping for Champagne—Extra Dry, Brut, etc.—refer to how much sugar was added to the Champagne during the secondary fermentation process.
If you have a drug scale (fun!), you can weigh out how much sugar to put into your bottle in grams per liter. The more sugar you add, the sweeter it's gonna be. After two or more days of sitting, there might be some residual sugar that the yeast doesn't eat, but for the most part it will get gobbled up by the Hungry Hungry Yeasties.
Pour the entire bottle of cheap wine into the cagey top bottle.
You're going to see the little yeast granules swimming around in there like sea monkeys. This is fine. Give it a swirl and watch them go.
Close the top of the bottle and secure with the cage.
Now here comes the semi-boring but crucial part that takes 48-plus hours.
Let the thing sit. You can leave it out at room temperature, or if you have a little more time—like two weeks—you can put it in the back of your fridge. The colder it is, the slower it will ferment. Sticking it in a cabinet is a good idea because there won't be too many temperature fluctuations. Don't put the bottle in direct sunlight.
The cage is going to hold the pressure in and the CO2 created by the eating, burping, farting, pissing yeast babies is going to go right into your magic bubbly.
After 48 hours, your homemade Champagne will be ready to drink. To open it without getting yeast gunk in the final product, try freezing it cork-side down. When you release the top, the gunk plug will slide right out—leaving you with just some lovely, sparkly Champagne straight out of your kitchen cabinet. Well, technically "Champagne" can only come from France—this is actually just sparkling wine if you want to be proper about it. But we won't tell anyone. It's kind of like Champagne moonshine!
Cheers, and don't say we never taught you nothin'.
Many thanks to Don Lee for contributing his home-brewing know-how and showing us how it's done. This post previously appeared on MUNCHIES in December 2014.