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That of bubbles is a varied world, full of nuances and technical terms that not everyone knows. In this article, we want to resolve some widespread doubts, starting with the difference between the two main methods of sparkling wine: the Charmat Method and the Classic Method.
The Charmat Method
The wines produced with the Martinotti Method or Charmat Method (from the names of Federico Martinotti from Asti, who invented the method, and Eugéne Charmat, who patented the equipment to put it into practice) come from still white wines: after having undergone the first fermentation during the normal production process, these wines undergo a second one in steel autoclaves, at controlled temperature and pressure, with the addition of yeasts and sugar. During this phase, which lasts from 30 days to 6 months, the yeasts “eat” the sugars and transform them into alcohol and carbon dioxide, giving life to the characteristic bubbles.
The wine is filtered at this point, and then the dosage takes place. The dosage is the “final correction” with the addition of a mixture of wine and sugar, and finally, the bottling. In the Charmat Method, the sparkling process is completed in the bottle, and therefore, the wines, once bottled, are ready to be drunk. Since it is a relatively simple and rapid process, the Charmat Method gives life to wines that are primarily light, fresh, and with fruity notes, with a reasonably coarse and evanescent perlage (the structure and size of the bubbles): a typical example is Prosecco.
The Classic Method
The Classic Method or Champenoise Method (for Champagnes produced in the homonymous region) or Crémant Method (for sparkling wines produced in the rest of France) differs from the Charmat Method mainly because it carries out the second fermentation, and therefore the sparkling process, directly in the bottle. The basis of sparkling wines is usually made up of a cuvée, which is a blend of wines of different types and/or vintages (unless it is a vintage sparkling wine that is produced with a single wine from a single vintage), which is bottled with the addition of a selection of sugars and yeasts (tirage). The wine undergoes the second fermentation in the bottle by resting horizontally for an average duration of 24/36 months, with peaks of 120 or more.
Disgorgement and dosage of the Classic Method
At this point, the remuage phase begins: each bottle is rotated by 1/8 and slightly inclined with the cap downwards to deposit the fermentation residues in the neck. The neck is frozen with special machinery when the bottle reaches a vertical position. This is how we proceed with disgorging: the bottle is uncorked, and the frozen lees are expelled. The last steps are the dosage, adding a mixture of sugars and wine to restore the removed part of the wine, and the final corking. Longer, more expensive, and more complex than the Charmat Method, the Classic Method gives life to more structured and full-bodied wines, with richer notes mainly linked to the yeast and a finer and more persistent perlage.
The Ancestral Method
Even if it is less known, there is a third method of producing bubbles: the Ancestral Method. This begins with a light pressing of the grapes, which is used to extract the “indigenous yeasts” present in the skin of the bunches of grapes. Fermentation is then carried out in stainless steel barrels at controlled temperatures and is blocked at a precise sugar level: this guarantees the resumption of fermentation after bottling, which takes place without added sugars or yeasts.
The classification of the bubbles based on the residual sugar
In addition to differing in the method of making sparkling wines, sparkling wines can also be classified according to the residual sugar. Based on the quantity of sugar contained, each sparkling wine is defined to be regulated differently:
- Pas dosé or zero dosage or nature: sugar content less than 1 gram/liter. These are wines to which no sugars are added during the dosing phase
- Brut nature: sugar content lower than 3 g/l
- Extra brut: sugar content lower than 6 g/l
- Brut: sugar content lower than 15 g/l
- Extra dry: sugar content between 12 and 20 g/l
- Dry or Secco: sugar content between 18 and 35 g/l
- Demi-sec or Abboccato: sugar content between 33 and 50 g/l
- Sweet or Doux: sugar content higher than 50 g/l