Remember how I mentioned in week 1 of this challenge that some types of sparkling wine end up sweeter than their champagne cousins? This week we’ll dive into some of the basics behind my tasting focus of prosecco, and how it differs from cava, champagne, and other similarly-made bubblers.
In order to get everything up to speed, I’m going to back up to the méthode champenoise, or the “champagne method.” Wines made this way include Spanish cava, French champagne (made in the region of the same name), French crémant (same style but made elsewhere in France), Italian Franciacorta, and South African méthode cap classique.
While many great graphics exist related to the creation of champagne et al, for the sake of simplicity and expediency, I’m going to make an attempt to give a highly simplified list of steps. Please, please, please note that so much effort goes into each of these steps, many of which are painstaking and at times take weeks, months or even years to reach completion.
Producing a wine using the méthode champenoise involves —
(1) Creating a base wine. Yes, the winemakers have to take the grapes and turn them into a fully-fledged wine prior to the additional work involved in making it sparkle. In a future post, I’ll talk more about what goes into this process; I ended up deleting a lot of words because I want to stay on topic. Grapes used for this style vary; most common for Champagne (not the capital C) are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
(2) Blending. In order to create a certain flavor and/or aroma profile, winemakers don’t always hedge their bets on one base wine, choosing instead to experiment with slightly different methods and then carefully blend results together. This actually happens with non-sparkling wine, too, in order to help ensure quality and consistency from year to year.
(3) Second Fermentation. By this step, the base wine has already fermented and will be bottled. Typically, in winemaking this comes at the end of the process, but this isn’t your typical bottling. Here, the wine is poured into temporary bottles, along with some yeast and sugar in exact amounts into each bottle. The yeast, which feeds on the sugar, is what will create the bubbles in the wine.
(4) Aging. The wine rests. And rests. And lies there some more, giving time for the yeast to gobble up the sugar, and then die. Once it dies, it can continue to add flavor to the final wine such as notes of brioche, toast, or even cheese. Cool, right? This can take anywhere from nine months to several years.
(5) Riddling. Nope, nothing to do with the Batman villain, sorry. Instead, since the sugar has been successfully converted into both alcohol and bubbles of CO2 within the bottle, the yeast has now got to go. No one wants a cloudy sparkling wine, unless you’re into pet nats… but that’s another cluster of grapes. Riddling involves slowly turning the bottles over the course of months so that the yeast settles into the neck for removal in step 6. Remember, the wine was placed into temporary bottles.
(6) Disgorging. The yeast is “disgorged” or removed from the bottle. Traditionally, this means freezing the bottle’s neck where the dead yeast has settled, and then opening the bottles so that the ice — and the yeast along with it — comes right out again.
(7) Dosage. This final stage prior to final bottling involves adding a bit more of the base wine with more sugar, often to correct or shift the often bracing acidity of these wines to something more pleasing to the palate. If you see bottles labeled with “brut nature,” this means that only base wine and no additional sugar was added.
That’s méthode champenoise.
The tank method, or charmat, on the other hand, is a horse of an entirely different color. Production moves much more quickly than with méthode champenoise, and it’s also a lot cheaper, which is why you often see prosecco at a much lower price point. The steps in order include —
(1) Creating a base wine. This much remains the same, though Glera is the most common grape used. Now get ready for a fork in the road…
(2) Second fermentation. Sounds the same, but it’s really not. Yes, we add sugar and yeast to jump start the process of making things bubble, but this time it’s all in a big metal tank — hence the moniker “tank method.” Prosecco is meant to be a much fresher wine, so producers don’t typically allow it to age more than a few weeks.
(3) Filtering. Again, the yeast must go. No riddling, nor freezing or disgorging required. Just send everything through a fine filter to get rid of the yeast and send it into the final bottles with a bit of…
(4) Dosage. Same as previously explained.
Fewer steps, less time and manpower involved, and with an entirely different taste.
Champagne-style sparkling wines tend to have less fresh fruit at the forefront in favor of notes indicative of complexity and age, while tank method bubbles definitely have fruit as the star of the show and more sweetness in general.
With that in mind, on to the wine of the night.
Wine Challenge, Week 3: Adami Garbèl Brut Prosecco di Treviso Doc
Producer: Adriano Adami
Region: Treviso, Veneto, Italy
Style: Prosecco (sparkling white)
Vintage: Not listed; second fermentation completed July 2020
The wine is a clear, pale lemon color. Bubbles are present (I mean, I’d hope so… but yeah. Accounted for, check!)
Clean primary aromas of apple, pear and a touch of melon at medium (-) intensity, as they’re a bit muddled. There’s a bit of a candied note as well, but undefined, and a slight yeasty note as it warms up in the glass. This is a simple wine.
Much more crisp on the palate, though still mostly in the tree-fruit range with apple and pear. There’s also a hint of lemon and melon; flavors are primary and resolve at medium intensity. While I can detect more sugar than in the cava I tasted previously, this would still be considered a dry example of prosecco. Acidity is medium, and both alcohol and body are at medium level. As a sparkling wine, the texture is on the creamy side; finish is medium in length.
While only achieving medium (-) intensity in aromas, the Adami otherwise remains in balance with other elements at a medium level. It lacks complexity but has a medium finish; in terms of quality I would call this a good example of entry-level Prosecco.
Wine Folly recommends pairing prosecco with Southeast Asian cuisine, and I could see the slight sweetness playing well with the fragrant spices present in those dishes. I’d be curious to play around more with matching cheeses to the Adami; I originally thought that the aged Gouda I had bought would work, but in actuality the two diminished one another’s flavors significantly!
Would I drink this again? With the right food and situation, maybe. I’d much rather reach for a bottle of French crémant in a pinch, just because I prefer the greater complexity over tutti-frutti. With that said, perhaps I simply need to explore prosecco a bit more to discover which producers I truly enjoy.
Of the two sparkling wines thus far reviewed, which would you rather try?