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Discovering Wine: What is Spumante, and how is it made

written by Raimondo Capasso

authentic-italian-spumante

In the last article of discovering wine, we focused on the various aspects that affect the culture, history, and vinification of wine. We focused mainly on the winemaking method: red, white, and rosé - if you didn’t read the article, read it before completing this one, click this link

Today's theme is dedicated exclusively to a special type of winemaking: spumante.

Spumante is a typically effervescent wine, that is, with strong development of bubbles where, at the moment of uncorking, a more or less persistent foam is created on the surface. The bubbles that are formed are characterized by a greater or lesser number, finesse, and persistence, which represents one of the quality indicators for spumante.

Obviously this effervescence is not typical of wine but of the winemaking process, in fact, we have two methods by which the much loved "bubbles" are obtained: the Classic method and the Martinotti-Charmat method.


The Classic Method:

The Classic Method is the oldest method to obtain the spumante, the origins date back to the mid-seventeenth century by the Benedictine Dom Pierre Perignon and consist of refermenting the wine in the bottle following a precise technique.

The term Classic method is often combined or confused with the Champenois method because they have the same production process but, the Champenois, it is a French exclusive for products from the Champagne region of the same name.

Let's go into the details of the production of this method: a mixture of yeasts and sugars, also called liquor de tirage, which have the task of refermenting the wine, is added to the base wine. The wine is then immediately bottled in special bottles, called Champagnotte, which withstand pressures of up to 6-8 atm, and corked with special aluminum crown caps.

Now the period of the second fermentation takes place, that is, the bottles are placed horizontally in the cellar, and the yeasts are left to act on the sugars transforming them into alcohol, carbon dioxide, and other secondary substances that give the wines typical aromas and flavors. This second fermentation takes place slowly, in about 120 days, because the yeasts have to work at low temperatures, around 10 - 12 ° C.

The period of aging on the lees now takes place, that is, the period in which the lees, having finished their work, remain in contact with the wine. This period is regulated by the various production disciplines and ranges from a minimum of 18 months to 24 and more months. This step is essential to give typical characteristics to the spumante that is being produced, in fact, the yeasts are in an unfavorable environment due to the high pressure and the presence of ethyl alcohol, degrade and release to the wine the substances that had previously absorbed thus enriching the wine with aromas.

At the end of this period, it is necessary to eliminate the residues of the yeasts left in the wine, to do this the bottles are slowly brought from the horizontal to the upside-down vertical position (i.e. with the cap facing downwards). During this change of position, the bottles are subjected to remuage, which consists of shaking the bottles slightly to facilitate the detachment of the yeasts from the walls and convey them to the neck of the bottle.

So the time of disgorgement has arrived, that is to remove the yeasts, which have become lees, from the bottle, we have two methods to do it: the first, à la volèe, is the classic one and used since the dawn of this method: always keeping the bottle at head down, he takes off the crown cap and lets the lees come out and then quickly straightens the bottle to try not to lose too much wine. The second, more modern, is called à la glace: the neck of the bottle is immersed in a refrigerated solution at - 25 ° C so that the part of wine containing the lees freezes. The bottle is then brought to the normal position and the crown cap is opened. The pressure inside the bottle will cause the frozen scum stopper to fly away.

Both methods used will lead to the last step before concluding the production process: the dosage or liqueur d’peditition. This step consists of adding a mixture of aged wine, sugar or liqueur before the bottle is closed. This blend is different for each producer and is typical of the same, as it defines the final character of the wine.

Now is the time to cap the spumante with the typical cork stopper and let the added dosage act for a few more months in the cellar before being drunk.


The Martinotti-Charmat method

This method was designed at the end of the 19th century by Federico Martinotti, director of the Royal Wine Station of Asti, to speed up the production process of spumante and reduce their costs. Later, the French engineer Eugene Charmat built and patented the systems of Merinotti’s method, and, for this reason, this method is more commonly known as the Charmat method.

This method requires that, once the wine is obtained, a second fermentation is carried out (second fermentation), with the addition of yeast and sugar, in huge autoclaves of 100-500 hectoliters at controlled temperature and pressure. During the fermentation period, which varies from 1 to 6 months, the yeasts transform sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide, i.e. bubbles! After the desired fermentation period, the wine is filtered and bottled under isobaric conditions, i.e. at constant pressure, so as not to lose the carbon dioxide created in the previous months. Thanks to this method, spumante can already be consumed after bottling, which, as we have seen previously, does not apply to the Classic method.

The nomenclature on the label

Everyone has drunk a bottle of spumante and read unknown nomenclatures on the label or, very often, written in French, also on Italian labels. Below, therefore, an excursus on most of the nomenclatures that we can find on the label:

Referring to the vintage of the grape harvest, we can find on the label:

  • Millesimato: it means that the spumante was vinified with grapes that all have the same vintage. This can be dictated by the choice of the producer to impress the particular vintage of that grape on the final product.
  • Cuvèe: this spumante is produced with blends of wines from different vintages preserved, in this case on the label we can also find the words sans annèe.

Referring to the type of grape we will find:

  • Blanc de blancs: the base wine is obtained only from white berried grapes.
  • Blanc de noirs: the base wine is obtained both from white berried grapes and black berried grapes vinified, however, in white  - you can learn more about the winemaking process here.

While referring to the dosage or liqueur de expedition on the label, we can find words that indicate the sugar residue:

Spumante 

Sugar residue (gr/l)

Pas dosè

< 1

Brut nature

< 3

Extra Brut

< 6

Brut

6 - 12

Extra dry

12 - 17

Dry, Secco

17 - 32

Demi-sec, Abboccato

32 – 50

Doux, Dolce

> 50


Sparkling wine, Spumante, Prosecco, Franciacorta, and Champagne: the differences

Let’s make further clarification  on all the ways in which spumante is often confused:

  • Sparkling wine: they are very similar to spumante but differ in a lower pressure between 1 and 1.5 bar.
  • Spumante: this is the general way of defining wines to which a double fermentation is applied, regardless of the method used, with a bottle pressure of not less than 3 bar and alcohol of not less than 8.5%;
  • Prosecco: it is a DOC or DOCG spumante, produced exclusively with the Martinotti-Charmat method, which can only be produced in some areas of Veneto and Friuli-Venezia Giulia and from the Glera, Verdiso, Pinot Bianco, Grigio or Nero vines.
  • Franciacorta: it is a DOCG spumante, vinified exclusively with the Classic Method, in the area of ​​the same name in the province of Brescia, and exclusively with Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Noir grapes.
  • Champagne: champagne wine is produced exclusively with the Champenois method in the Champagne region of the same name, in France, from where, in fact, the Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Perignon first invented this method. It is produced exclusively with Chardonnay, Pinot noir, and Meunier grapes.

Do not miss the next article dedicated to the world of wine, we will talk about special wines: raisin, molded, frozen wines, and much more.



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