When it comes to bubbly and sparkling wine, there are all kinds and varieties to choose from. Did you know that champagne is only called champagne if it was made in the northeastern region of France called Champagne? There are other similar drinks such as Prosecco and Cava that also contain bubbles. These are merely called sparkling wines.
If you have ever wondered how the bubbles got into the sparkling wine, the simplest and most widely-used method to capture fermentation’s carbonation is called the Charmat method.
This article will explain all about the Charmat method and all it entails for the bottle of sparkling wine you have.
What is the Charmat Method?
In essence, the Charmat method is a process that sparkling wine production houses use to trap bubbles in wine. It uses carbonation in large steel tanks to do so.
Also known to others as metodo Italiano, the Marionotti method, the tank method and cuve close (sealed tank), the Charmat method is most commonly used to produce Prosecco, Lambrusco and Asti Spumante wines in Italy. Other wines that also use this method are the German sekt (sparkling wines) and American sparkling wine.
Some people may consider the Charmat method as a more inferior way of producing sparkling wine as it is considered less labour intensive than the traditional method.
During the Charmat method, the base wine cuvee is established and transferred into a pressurized tank instead of a bottle like during the traditional method. The yeasty character, taste and smell are not as prevalent in these sparkling wines, therefore the taste is more natural with fruity aromas and flavours prevailing.
Process of Charmat Method
The Charmat method involves 5 stages, which are
- Primary fermentation
- Secondary fermentation
- Cooling and filtering
- Addition of sugar
Stage 1 – Primary fermentation
In the first stage, the wine undergoes its primary fermentation in stainless steel vats. This will create a still wine that tastes rather fruity and is of low alcohol percentage.
Stage 2 – Secondary fermentation
The wine is moved into a stainless steel tank called the autoclave. In order for the wine to carry out its secondary fermentation, a mixture of yeast and sugar is added to induce it. This mixture is also known as the tirage. After the fermentation process, bubbles will start to appear and it eventually becomes sparkling wine once fermentation is done.
The fermentation process during this stage usually takes between 3 to 12 months, depending on the type of wine and producer.
Stage 3 – Cooling and filtering
The dead yeast cells, also known as lees, are removed during this step via filtration. In order to stop fermentation, the wine is cooled and then filtered into another tank.
Stage 4 – Addition of sugar
Wine producers will add sugar whenever they want. The sugar added, also known as dosage, will determine how sweet the sparkling wine will eventually be.
Stage 5 – Bottling
This last stage ensures that the bottles of sparkling wine are bottled and packaged. Usually, the bottles are bottled under pressure in order to keep the effervescents in the wine. The bottles of sparkling wine are then packaged, sold and shipped throughout the world.
History of Charmat method
Some may wonder why the Charmat method is named as such. In actually fact, it was named after one of the people that helped with the creation of this method.
Sparkling wine is actually considered to be a recent invention as only within the last 500 years have winemakers been able to capture the bubbles in the bottles. In 1895, Federico Martinotti created and patented this method of wine making. However, in 1907, French inventor Eugene Charmat improved on the method by inventing the machinery we still use today and patented it. That is where we get the name ‘Charmat Method’.
Nevertheless, the Charmat method is also known as Metodo Martinotti so that the credit is given to Federico Martinotti’s original invention. This is especially so in Italy.
Why use the Charmat method?
Usually, sparkling wines such as Champagnes are created over a long period of time. It usually takes upwards of over a year when producers use the Traditional (Champagne) method. Creation of sparkling wines using the Charmat method such as Prosecco can be within months.
As the process is much quicker than the traditional method, bottles are cheaper and is not so labour intensive. Therefore, consumers are more likely to purchase Prosecco due to the pricing. Production houses also directly benefit from the sales of more bottles of sparkling wine and can turn quicker profits.
This method is also known to create more fruity notes in the sparkling wine, which appeals to the younger generation. As the sparkling wine is bottled immediately after the secondary fermentation, the wine tends to have fresher, fruitier notes.
For more aromatic grape varieties such as moscato and riesling, it is better to use the Charmat method to turn it into wine as the grapes’ aromas are retained more than when using the traditional method. Usually champagne retains more nutty and toasty flavours.
The sparkling wine produced by the Charmat method is also crystal clear. This is through the wine filtration, making sure that there is no sediment in the wine.
Wines carbonated with this method have two to four atmospheres of pressure. This translates into a softer carbonation than wines made in the traditional method as well.
Types of wine made using the Charmat method
Types of wine made using this method include, but is not limited to:
- Asti Spumante
- German sekt
- American sparkling wine
Difference between Charmat Method and Champenoise Method
The Charmat and Champenoise method are both popular methods when it comes to sparkling wine production. Both methods guarantee a high quality sparkling wine.
The Champenoise method is also known as the metodo Classico. It is also considered as the traditional method. The sparkling wine is produced when the wine undergoes its second fermentation process in the bottle itself in order to produce the bubbles. Basically, whenever the Champenoise method is referenced, the producer is referring to the bottle fermentation process.
The production of champagne uses this method. The European Union has stated that this term can only be used for sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France.
Outside this, even though the process is the same, it has to be called methode classique or methode traditionnelle instead. In Italian it is called the metodo tradicional. In German it is the klassische Flaschengärung.
There are a few key differences in both these methods of producing sparkling wine. Among the differences are:
Charmat Method – Second fermentation happens in a large, stainless steel tank to trap the carbonation in the wine.
Champenoise Method – Second fermentation happens in individual bottles in which the wines are sold.
Champenoise Method has a stronger carbonation in the wines than Charmat method. The Charmat method has softer bubbles that dissipate more quickly.
Sparkling wines made from the Charmat method are usually sweeter than sparkling wine made with the Champenoise method. This, however, is not really due to the production methods but rather due to the choices of sparkling wine producers.
Charmat Method – Uses more aromatic grapes such as glera, riesling, moscato and lambrusco.
Champenoise Method – More likely made from the three main champagne grapes which are pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.
Sparkling wines made using the Charmat Method are less expensive than those made from the Champenoise method. This is due to the Charmat Method involving less labour and aging time.
The Charmat method produces sparkling wines that are fresh and filled with fruity notes. The Champenoise method on the other hand, results in a complex and structured wine with special enhancement of the scent of the wine grapes and the scent of yeast.
The Charmat method is an easy and relatively fuss-free way of producing sparkling wine. Many types of wine, particularly Prosecco, use this method to ensure the bubbles are soft in the sparkling wine. The result of this method usually is a sparkling wine that has fruiter notes as compared to the traditional method of bottling sparkling wine and is also a cheaper sparkling wine as compared to champagne due to the less intensive labour involved.