The Charmat Method is a method of making sparkling wines. In Italy, it is called the Metodo Martinotti, and on New World wines it may be described as the “tank method”. This method was developed by Eugene Charmat in Western France, but its most famous wine is the Italian Prosecco. Developing bubbles in stainless steel tanks, instead of on the lees in a bottle like Champagne, gives a crisper and fruitier wine.
Making the Wine
Before making a sparkling wine, Charmat-style wines go through a first fermentation to create a still base wine. It’s then put into a pressurized tank with extra yeast and sugar for a second fermentation. The yeast transforms the sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The CO2 can’t escape from the tank, and becomes dissolved into the wine. When the CO2 builds up to a pressure of about 5 atmospheres, fermentation is stopped by cooling everything down to just below freezing. Then, still under pressure, the wine is clarified and filtered. A “dosage” of extra sugar is often added at bottling, allowing for varying styles from brut to sweet.
Style and Pairings
Whereas Champagne and other Traditional Method wines age on yeast cells, Charmat Method wines are filtered before bottling. This leads to fresher fruit flavors such as citrus or apples, plus other primary flavors from the base wine that could be floral, fruity, or mineral depending on the varietal. Charmat wines, like most sparkling wine, is very food friendly. Its crispness lends it well to light seafood and fresh cheeses, as well as fruit. Sweeter Charmat Method wines pair nicely with light desserts. And the fresh, light flavors of Charmat wines make them great for sipping. They also make great mimosas!
Charmat Method wines are typically less expensive than their Méthode Traditionnelle cousins, and most are not structure to age. But they are fun, fresh, and food-friendly wines that are great values for days that you feel like some bubbly.