Prosecco can’t be produced using the classic method, a primary sparkling wine method rooted in the principle of the bottle refermentation, but only using the well-known Charmat method.
The Classic Method: French Origins
The classic method traces its origins to France, specifically in the Champagne region. Tradition has it that in the late 1600s, Abbot Pierre Pérignon discovered a method of refermenting wine in bottles during a pilgrimage. Some believe he stumbled upon Champagne by accident, as the explosion of certain bottles led to the suspicion of carbon dioxide presence. Others claim the abbot added sugar to wine bottles after the initial fermentation. Initially called “méthode champenoise,” due to disputes, it was renamed “classic method” outside the Champagne region. Classic method sparkling wines produced in France outside Champagne are called “Crémant,” referring to the vanilla notes imparted by yeast to these wines’ aroma.
The Classic Method: 8 Stages of Sparkling
Let’s delve into the stages of sparkling in detail according to the classic method.
- Production and Blending of Base Wines: Sparkling wines are vinified as still wines from early grapes ensuring good acidity. If it’s a cuvée (a blend of wines from different vintages), the wine won’t bear a vintage indication. If made from a single vintage, it’s labeled as “Millesimato” with the reference year. If the grapes are solely white, it’s Blanc de Blancs; if produced from a blend of black grapes vinified white, it’s Blanc de Noirs.
- Addition of Liqueur de Tirage: A solution of base wine, cane sugar, selected yeast, and minerals is added to the cuvée. Fermentation starts, creating alcohol and carbon dioxide (bubbles).
- Bottling with Yeasts: The liqueur de tirage-added wine is bottled in thick bottles, closed with crown caps, preserving wine from light. A plastic cylinder (bidule) is placed under the cap to collect spent yeast after fermentation.
- Prise de Mousse: In bottles, stacked for over 18 months at 10-12°C, yeasts transform sugars, developing alcohol and carbon dioxide. After fermentation, yeast membranes start to decompose, releasing complex scents and flavors. Extended aging results in fine, persistent bubbles.
- Riddling (Remuage): After aging, spent yeast sediments are separated from the sparkling. Bottles are rotated (remuage), concentrating sediments at the bottle neck. Remuage can be manual or automated based on the number of bottles to be processed.
- Disgorgement (Sboccatura or “Dégorgement”): Sediments are removed through a mechanized process. Bottle necks, facing downward, are frozen, crown caps are removed, and sediments are collected in bidules.
- Dosage: Fermentation converts all sugars, rendering the sparkling dry. Before sealing, a liquid to compensate for lost volume due to disgorgement is added. This “liqueur d’expédition” can have different sugar levels. If topped up with the same sparkling, it’s dosage-free, resulting in a perfectly dry sparkling.
- Corking and Packaging (Abillage): The final step involves corking and packaging. Many companies label disgorgement dates to ensure ideal consumption, typically within 6-12 months for “standard” sparkling, while exceptional products can age in the bottle for much longer.
Classic Method vs. Charmat Method: A Quick Comparison
The difference lies in the second fermentation. In the classic method, as seen, it occurs in the bottle, whereas for Prosecco made through the Charmat method, this phase takes place in autoclaves. Charmat method wines are generally light, fresh, fruity, with a fine, persistent perlage – Prosecco being a prime example.
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