When we talk about contemporary sparkling winemaking, it’s usually about either conventional or Charmat.
In numerous wines, the classic method, also recognized as the Methode champenoise in Champagne in Champagne as méthode Champenoise–is considered to be held to a superior standard. Regions where the method of choice is mandated, like Champagne, Cava, and Franciacorta, cite it as a dependable indicator of quality and longevity. On the other hand, Champagne made with the Charmat method is usually considered light, fresh, fruity, and enjoyable but not necessarily serious.
But, many Charmat-method sparkling winemakers across Italy, Brazil, Argentina, and the world are discovering it possible to make sparkling wines with a middle point. Through what they call”the “Long Charmat” method, which involves extended contact with the lees and the longer second fermentation, but still in tanks, They hope to gain more attention and recognition for their sparkling wines.
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The Difference Between Charmat and Long Charmat
The second fermentation vessel is usually the main distinction between conventional and Charmat methods of making sparkling wine: a bottle for traditional and a ship for Charmat. However, the techniques differ in secondary fermentation and lees maturing duration. This is why Long Charmat integrates elements of the conventional sparkling winemaking method.
Traditional sparkling wines typically last for at least nine months, maturing in bottles in contact with the lees, although some producers opt to keep their wines on lees for ten years or longer. If aged on lees, wine benefits from autolysis, in which yeast releases diverse compounds that alter wine’s flavor, aroma, and texture. Improving the wine’s mouthfeel as well as its body and depth. The longer it’s been on the lees, the longer it takes for carbon dioxide to escape, resulting in smaller, finer bubbles because less carbon dioxide dissolves within the wine.
The appeal of this Charmat technique is the speed. Extensive lees aging isn’t a standard part of the procedure. In Prosecco, which is the region that is where the Charmat technique is frequently associated, wines are allowed to spend a maximum period of thirty days within a tank. Although it’s not restricted elsewhere, a shorter tank period is now a standard procedure for other regions that have adopted the same method of making Charmat-style sparkling wines. Because the second fermentation occurs in tanks–and in such a brief amount of time–Charmat sparkling wines are typically more fruity and have more giant bubbles with no bready or brioche flavors usually found in traditional sparkling wines.
Wines made with the Long Charmat method will be aged longer in the tank to create more complex profiles. Photo courtesy of Zardetto.
A method that has developed in the last 5-10 years, Long Charmat blends the lees contact method of the traditional way and Charmat’s tank structure. In Prosecco, where this prolonged aging process was first introduced, Long Charmat wines typically are stored for a minimum of 6 months in tanks. How this process is seen in other regions is different. “It’s a way of getting an intermediate style between classic Charmat style and traditional method,” says Brazilian sommelier and wine educator Mauricio Roloff. “When you are dealing with ageing and contact with lees, usually between three and 12 months, you will get an entirely different taste, an entirely different aroma palette The mousse is more rich. You get bolder sparkling wines.”
Expanding Consumer Tastes in Brazil
Those more complex, bold notes have winemakers such as Lucas Foppa of Brazil’s Tenuta Foppa & Ambrosi very excited over using the Long Charmat method. “It’s extremely interesting as you can make a method similar to that you can do using battonage. It is possible to shake the lees and make the sparkling wine more smooth … It is possible to also extract a tiny flavor of toasty that we enjoy in traditional sparkling wines,” he says. But Long Charmat ensures you will also “keep the freshness.”
The ability to play around with the timing of the Charmat method is the key to the success of Tenuta Folpa and Ambrosi, a brand launched in 2018 by two young winemakers. The brand still needs to be established enough to cover the costs of the labor-intensive procedure that the traditional method of making sparkling wine involves, and they don’t want to make their wine in this manner. “We specifically chose the long-term Charmat method because [it aligns with] the style of wine we want to produce,” says Foppa, who alters Tenuta Folla and Ambrosi’s Brut Bianco along with their Brut Rose over six months in lees.
Quality is the most critical factor in Brazil’s sparkling wine, which makes up nearly 70% of the output. Brazil has an incredibly young and modern wine industry grew in the 1970s when international wineries such as Moet & Chandon invested there. Since the country had a closed economic system until around 1990, Brazilians did not appreciate international wine much until recently. Due to that, according to Roloff Bra,zilian wine drinkers tend to favor refreshing and fruity wines. These preferences are evident in the country’s sparkling wines.
For winemakers Lucas Foppa (left) and Ricardo Ambrosi (right), Long Charmat is an excellent method for the style of their products. Photo courtesy of Tenuta Foppa & Ambrosi.
“Most the sparkling wine we offer are light more refreshing, fruity such as a sparkling wine for happy hour such as sparkling wine at picnics that are simple to enjoy. That’s what you can get when you use this Charmat method, which is why it is a great fit for the Brazilian palate effectively,” says Roloff. “But we also have more discerning consumers who prefer something that is more sophisticated and bold in their mouths. It is said that the Long Charmat method came to Brazil as a means to provide more variety for wine lovers. It’s perfect for us.”
A Way to Blend Tradition With Modernity in Prosecco
Prosecco producers are also experimenting with tank maturation in Italy, where the Charmat method was first invented and patent-protected in 1895. DOC regulations require Prosecco’s secondary fermentation to last at least 30 and 60 days to make Prosecco Rose.
The first Prosecco wines differed from the bubbly, fruity wines we enjoy now. Before the large stainless steel tanks were erected in the region’s wineries, Prosecco was fermented in bottles. It was referred to as Col Fondo, which means “traditional” sparkling wine isn’t bottled or bottled. There’s been a trend with younger makers to revive the type of wine within the region; other producers are embracing the past differently.
“We arrived at the Long Charmat method through inventing something new, but based on traditions from the past.” – Fabio Zardetto, Zardetto Prosecco.
An increasing number of producers of Prosecco are exploring using the Long Charmat method, including Follador, Zucchetto, Le Vigne de Alice, and Zardetto Prosecco. For the owner of Zardetto, Fabio Zardetto, the extended tank aging is an enjoyable way to mix traditional and modern. “Looking towards the future and looking back to the past is extremely important. It is essential to have understanding of both in order to comprehend the things we have to accomplish,” he says. “We arrived at the Long Charmat method through inventing something new, but based on traditions from the past.”
Zardetto’s Prosecco Superiore Long Charmat Brut NV, launched in 2019, is stored on lees in a tank that will last for at least six months. This wine is around $10 more than the regular brut Prosecco and retains its fresh, fruity flavor of Glera grapes from which it is made. It also demonstrates to consumers that Prosecco is more than an aperitivo wine. “With high-quality grapes and good yeasts together for six months, we can really increase the quality of the Prosecco,” Zardetto says. Zardetto, “and remember what it really was in the past.”