We all love a bubbly wine. Sales prove it. In the UK, sparkling wines sales have risen by 22% since 2010, with Prosecco sales now outstripping Champagne by bottles (and value!). This upward surge shows no sign of slowing down.
As a nation we are as committed to sparkling wines as we are to fish and chips, queues or commenting on the weather – and in these strained times, I think a decent bottle of sparkling wine makes even the daily grind of bad news somewhat more tolerable!
With the heady rise in the price of branded Champagne, and many ‘Champagne’ alternatives from England, France and the like also now proving just as costly, it begs the question, where can you purchase decent fizz for less?
I give you… drum roll… wait for it…
Ta – Dahhh!
The Charmat Method
(Also called Cuve Close, Metodo Italiano or Tank Method)
The first ideas for a ‘sealed’ system for making sparkling wines faster than traditional ‘Champagne’ methods was invented in 1895 by Italian winemaker Federico Marianotti – but alas he didn’t patent it, or progress it through to full scale production. It wasn’t until 1905 that French winemaker and inventor Eugene Charmat resurrected the idea, patented it and brought it into production. And since then we have been able to enjoy bubbly wines at a fraction of the cost (and time) of the laborious but higher quality Traditional Method seen in the production of Champagne.
In essence, the Charmat method is a series of sealed tanks connected by pipes, with grape juice being introduced into the first tank, where it ferments to make a still wine, then it is transferred into a second sealed tank (using the CO2 gas from the first fermentation to ‘power’ the system), where sugar and yeast is added to initiate a second fermentation which produces a lot more CO2 gas. Once this secondary fermentation has been completed – with the resulting CO2 gas being absorbed by the wine within the tank and the dead yeast cells (lees) making it very cloudy, the now fizzy (but cloudy) wine is transferred under pressure into a 3rd tank, passing through a filter that removes the lees and makes the wine crystal clear and ready for bottling and any additions (dosage) that the winemaker wishes to make.
The whole process can take as little as 6-8 weeks, unlike traditional Method, which not only takes more longer (up to 2 years or more, for the highest quality Champagne), but also uses more labour intensive processes.
The bottling, labelling and packaging of the Charmat wines takes place under pressure to eliminate any loss of sparkling, and a thicker glass bottle, cork and wire enclosure are used, just like ‘Traditional’ sparkling wines and Champagnes. This system of bottling and labelling is called ‘dressing’ by the makers.
My top 3 Sparkling wines using the Charmat method are:
Prosecco Spumante Rose, NV, Pure – Veneto, Italy
How could you not love this wine?! The appealing pink colour glows from the clear glass bottle, the packaging is top-notch, elegant and the flavour… simply Alpine strawberries, a dollop of cream and the citrus burst with a lively mousse. This is so, so, satisfying. The wine slips down so easily and makes the perfect Friday night quaffer.
Sparkling Grillo, NV, Santa Tresa, Sicily
This is my favourite sparkling wine made by Charmat and it is Organic to boot. It uses the local Grillo grapes grown in the heat of Sicily’s northern and easter vineyards and is made by the Charmat Method to produce a lovely fresh, green-apple and lemon-citrus flavoured dry Sparkler – showing really elegant fruit, freshness and even some of the brioche and roasted nut character that you find in Traditional method wines.
Malbec Rose NV, Gouguenheim, Argentina
A bit of a sideways shift – but bear with! This creamy, red-fruit scented and extremely elegant pink sparkler comes all the way from the high foothills of the Tupungato region of the Andes. Picked early to preserve the freshness, this wine has a mere 4 hours skin contact to impart the beautiful blush tinge, and then fermented using Charmat for 8 weeks before bottling. The nose is all crushed summer red berries, the palate is clean, precise and layered with strawberry and cherry and the finish is rounded and quite spicy. Beautiful!
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