Sparkling wines are the perfect bubbly drink if champagne feels a little too formal for a casual Friday night. Luckily, Charmat method wines are getting more and more common.
Charmat method wines are sparkling wines made with the Charmat wine-making process. As opposed to the toastiness and nuttiness of traditional champagne, Charmat method sparkling wines are sweeter, fruitier, and more refreshing. They’re also crystal clear with softer carbonation.
Winemakers produce sparkling wines through various methods, the Charmat method being one of them. The method can affect the taste and quality of the sparkling wine.
Sparkling Wines and Sparkling Wine Methods
Sparkling wine has been making waves for quite some time now. While champagne, specifically made and produced in the historic Champagne region of France, is the ultimate celebratory drink, other sparkling wines have been cementing their place in the industry.
Champagne can be expensive and is often seen as a celebratory luxury. So when someone craves the bubbly effervescent on a casual Friday night, one might need something more casual too. Enter sparkling wines.
Sparkling wines are a relatively new invention in the alcoholic beverage industry. It was only in the last 500 years that winemakers were able to intentionally introduce fizz and bubbles into their alcoholic beverages.
Sparkling wines like champagne and prosecco undergo different sparkling wine-making methods to achieve their signature flavors, aromas, and bubbles.
One of these sparkling wine methods is the Charmat method. It’s a common sparkling wine-making method for Italy’s famous Prosecco and Asti Spumante wines, Germany’s Sekt, and various US-made sparkling wines.
What Are Charmat Method Wines?
Charmat method wines are sparkling wine variations that use the Charmat method for the wine-making process.
Charmat method wines are bottled after the second fermentation process, unlike traditional bottles of champagne that are bottled before the second fermentation. Charmat method wines can retain their fresh and fruity flavors, as opposed to the nuttiness, toastiness, and full-bodied flavors of traditional champagne.
For aromatic grape varieties like Moscato and Riesling, it would be better to use the Charmat method. This will retain and preserve the grapes’ aromas more than the traditional Champagne method would.
Charmat method wines are crystal clear sparkling wine varieties with no sediments visible, thanks to the filtration stage.
Moreover, sparkling wines produced through such a method have about two to four atmospheres of pressure. This causes softer carbonation than sparkling wines produced in the traditional champagne method.
What Is the Charmat Method?
The Charmat method is also known as the Martinotti method, Metodo Italiano, Cuvée Close method, tank method, and Autoclave method.
The sparkling wine-making method was invented in 1895 by the Italian winemaker Federico Martinotti in Asti. This birthed the name “the Martinotti method” in Italy, after its original inventor. In 1907, Frenchman Eugène Charmat (thus the name Charmat method) modified the process and patented it so it bears his name.
This innovation allowed winemakers to introduce carbonation to wines at higher or bulk volumes but at a much lower cost.
Just like the traditional champagne-making method, the Charmat method begins by creating an uncarbonated wine base. This base wine can be made out of different grape varieties, different vineyards, different blends of different wines, or blends of different vintages. This is where the winemaker’s creative decision gets involved.
Next, a mixture of yeast and sugar is made. This is collectively called liqueur de tirage. The mixture is added to the large stainless steel pressure tank (or autoclave) which also contains the base wine mixture.
The yeast and sugar mixture causes the second fermentation to take place inside the pressurized steel tank. The pressure inside the tank forces down the carbon dioxide from the fermentation process into the wine, causing the fizz and bubbles we all know and love.
The second fermentation process takes place about one to six weeks, a much smaller timespan compared to the aging process in the traditional champagne-making method.
After that period, the sparkling wine is filtered and bottled. Winemakers can also choose to add a dosage to their wines before the bottling stage. This will determine the level of sweetness of the final sparkling wine product.
Sparkling wines produced through the traditional Champagne method go through a process called riddling, the step in the wine-making process that removes lees in individual bottles.
But for the Charmat method, this isn’t a necessary step. Instead, the wine is filtered in bulk before individual bottling.
Examples of Charmat Method Wines
Using the Charmat sparkling wine-making method is a common practice in Italy. It’s specifically used to produce sparkling wines like Prosecco, Asti Spumante, and Lambrusco. The German Sekt also uses the Charmat method instead of the traditional method.
Because this method is a cost-effective and less expensive way to make sparkling wines, many US-based factories use this method to make inexpensive sparkling wines that are abundant in the market.
Main Difference Between Charmat and Champagne Traditional Method Sparkling Wines
While the Charmat method has been gaining traction in the world of sparkling wine-making, there is a timeless method that’s still a huge hit to this day: the Champagne traditional method.
The Champagne traditional method is also known as Méthode Traditionnelle, Méthode Champenoise, Méthode Classique, and Classic Method.
Like the Charmat method, the Classic wine-making method starts with making the base wine. Here is where the differences between the two methods begin:
Champagne mostly uses Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grape varieties while aromatic grape varieties like Moscato, Riesling, Glera, and Lambrusco are more commonly used for Charmat method wines.
In the traditional method, the base wine is directly put into individual bottles. This is where the wine will undergo a secondary fermentation for carbonation formation.
In the Charmat method, instead of putting the wine into individual bottles, the base wine is put into a stainless steel pressure tank where it will undergo second fermentation and develop bubbles.
In the traditional Champagne method, the base wine is immediately bottled and it is in the individual bottles where the wine will go through a second fermentation stage.
A Charmat method sparkling wine is only bottled after it has gone through the second fermentation stage in bulk in pressurized steel tanks. The wine will already have bubbles before bottling.
During the second fermentation, the wine undergoes aging up to a certain point.
A traditional method sparkling wine is aged for about nine months up to five years or more. Charmat method sparkling wines age for significantly shorter periods for about one to six weeks.
Riddling is a process in which bottles are put on riddling racks and rotated at specific times to move the lees and dead yeast cells to the bottle of the neck. This process is specific only to wines produced through the traditional Champagne process. This means that wines that use the Charmat method can skip this because the wine is filtered before bottling.
Disgorging is the process of placing the riddled bottles into a neck freezer. This will freeze all the lees into an ice plug at the neck of the bottle. Once frozen, the cap and the ice plug will be quickly removed. This is usually done with a disgorging machine.
This step is a must for wines produced with the traditional method but those produced using the Charmat method can skip this step altogether.
Winemakers can still adjust the flavors and sweetness of their wines through the dosage. The dosage is a blend of still wine and sugar and will affect the sweetness of the end product.
In the traditional Champagne method, dosage is added to individual bottles. The dosage also doubles as a replacement for the amount of wine lost during the disgorging stage.
For the Charmat method, dosage is added in bulk in the stainless steel, before bottling.
Charmat method wines are generally sweeter with more fruity and refreshing flavors retained as opposed to Champenoise wines with more toasty, nutty, and full-bodied flavors.
Fizz and bubbles
Charmat method wines have softer bubbles and carbonation due to the wine having about two to four atmospheres of pressure. Traditional Champenoise wines have about five to seven atmospheres of pressure that results in stronger carbonation.
Each traditional Champenoise wine bottle is known to be unique. This is due to the distinct second fermentation process, disgorging, and unique dosage per bottle that give each a unique flavor.
Charmat method wines are unique per batch instead of per bottle. One batch of wine will have undergone the same processes and have the same flavors.
Charmat method wines sell cheaper than traditional Champagne method wines.
The cheaper wine-making process translates to a cheaper selling value. In the same way, the more expensive process translates to a more expensive selling value.
Sparkling wines are more popular than ever. Today, it’s not only the classic celebratory champagne that gets traction but other sparkling wines like Charmat method wines as well.
Charmat method wines are sparkling wine variations that use the Charmat method to produce wine. These wines retain the grapes’ fresh and fruity flavors, as opposed to the toastiness and nuttiness of traditional champagne. Charmat method wines are crystal clear without signs of sediments and have softer bubbles and carbonation.
Sparkling wines are produced using several methods and the Charmat method is only one of them. The method used can cause varied flavor profiles and aromas.