Production of sparkling wine in Italy is known as the “Charmat process” or “metodo Italiano”. The wine undergoes secondary fermentation in stainless steel tanks rather than the bottle. The French way of making champagne – known as “méthode champenoise” – involves several stages, much of it by hand, which partly explains why champagne is so expensive.
The Italian oenologist Federico Martinotti appears to have invented the process but French winemaker Eugène Charmat patented it in 1907, which explains why the process it named after M. Charmat.
In the late 1930s Antonio Carpenè Jr adapted the Italian process to prosecco grapes. Prosecco is native to the cool Veneto region in north-eastern Italy, and is one of the country’s oldest varieties. Grapes are hand harvested early in the morning to retain freshness and flavor, and then whole bunch pressed to ensure varietal flavors are captured.
The juice ferments in stainless steel tanks with selected yeast strains. The base wine is then blended, when secondary fermentation takes place. The result is a wine with fine and persistent bubbles.
Fermentation in tanks means that Italian sparkling wines can be sold at slightly lower prices than champagne yet still retain similar levels of quality. In terms of volume, prosecco sales worldwide are expected to pass champagne sales by the end of 2013.
Antonio Carpenè was the father of Etile and Clara Carpenè, two famous prosecco producers. Clara founded the Cantinae Clara C winery just outside of the Valdobbiadene region. About 90 per cent of her wines are exported. The company controls the brands Clara C, Fiori di Prosecco, Donnaclara, Feminine Prosecco and Fiori Rose.
Earlier this year her premium brand, Fiori di Prosecco, received the top award known as the double gold medal from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America in its annual competition. Fiori di Prosecco means it comes from the best prosecco grapes.
Clara Carpenè said it was an honor to receive the medal the first time her wine entered the competition. Her company has only recently entered the American market, and now it is looking at the Chinese market. She believes secondary fermentation in tanks works well with the prosecco grape “surpassing in many aspects the quality of secondary fermentation in individual bottles”.
I tasted two bottles of the Fiori di Prosecco, the first alone and the second with a group of colleagues to get their feedback. The wine has a good mousse – that is the sensation in your mouth when you first taste it – like tasting a sweet and fizzy lemon, all zing and tang that occupies the whole of your mouth. It has tiny bubbles, a sign of good winemaking; generally the smaller the bubbles the better the quality of a sparkling wine.
This prosecco is elegant and slightly austere, a bit like a refined older relative with a dry sense of humor. Colleagues and I matched the second bottle with smoked salmon and pink caviar a Russian friend had just arrived with. The wine’s lemon tang matched the saltiness of the caviar and the juicy smokiness of the salmon. A marriage, excuse the cliché, made in heaven but consecrated on earth.
More about the Cantinae Clara C winery can be found at their web site at http://clarac.it/
* “Sparkling qualities that promise bubbles of happiness” in China Daily, 24 September 2011, page 12. Find a link here.