The recent Boston Wine Expo was a great opportunity to educate many people on sparkling wine. Angela and Giorgio of Cantina Della Volta arrived from Modena, Emilia Romagna to pour three of their Lambruscos. I was very pleased with the amount of visitors who intently listened to what we had to say. Over the weekend I noticed that the topic of sparkling wine was a weak spot for many in terms of their depth of knowledge. With tons of folks seeing the bubbles and immediately asking us for Prosecco, I fear some left the Expo not understanding the difference between the Charmat Method and Classic Method (Champenoise) and why the difference is important.
Unlike Cantina Della Volta, 95% of Lambrusco and a major percentage of Prosecco is produced in the Charmat Method. This process was invented was Federico Martinotti in 1895 and then adapted by Eugene Charmat in 1907. The idea was to speed up the second fermentation (in which the bubbles are created). Basically, it took the second fermentation, which at the time occurred naturally in the bottle – and moved it to an autoclave (or in plain English, big steel tanks.) This allowed producers to more easily control the sparkling wine process and even more importantly, pump out bigger batches. Mr. Martinotti created the process in Asti, Piedmont (near Turin) thus we see the production with some very well-known Italian sparklers like Asti and Prosecco.
These sparklers won’t have the complexities of a wine like a French Champagne however due to the way they are made. What will really show in a Charmat Method wine are the primary aromas from the grape (primary aromas = flavor profile of grape off vine). Glera, the grapes that make Prosecco are quiet aromatic, thus when we indulge we will enjoy the nice floral aromas, apple and pear.
In contrast to the Charmat Method, a wine produced in the Classic Method will have more complexity. This complexity is due to the aging process. During the Classic Method the second fermentation takes place in the bottle with yeasts and sugar added. The yeasts will convert all the sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide (bubbles!) and from there the wine will age on the lees (dead yeasts) for at least 24 months. This is where the aromas of Classic Method wines come from, as this aging process will create complexities in the wine that are not possible in steel. Thus, we go beyond freshness and simple fruit aromas to nutty, buttery and more mature fruit aromas.
One important indicator and difference between the two styles are the bubbles. In a Classic Method wine where the bubbles are created in the bottle over time you are looking for a tiny, consistent bead of bubbles. Eventually however this bubble will fade because it’s all natural. More processed Charmat (and even some that claim to be Classic Method!) wines will have much bigger bubbles and may just seem to go on forever. Although this looks very cool in the glass, nature is not capable of creating such a consistent bubble lasting seemingly forever. This is often a sign of commercialization, and in some cases this carbonation has been pumped in.
On this timeline the difference is obvious. While 2013 Charmat method sparklers will start trickling onto the market in the next few months, we won’t see any Classic Method wines until 2016! Just like aged reds, there will certainly be a difference in the wine.
Bringing the discussion back to Lambrusco, the Bellei family of Cantina Della Volta were the first to experiment with Classic Method Lambrusco production in the late 80’s. While others are attempting to imitate, as of now when you pick up a bottle of Cantina Della Volta on the shelf here in Massachusetts you know you are purchasing a groundbreaking wine that is truly one of a kind.