Tag Archives: method

Wine Review: Montelvini, Prosecco di Asolo Superiore Millesimato Extra Dry “Venegazzù” DOCG NV

Disclaimer: this review is of a sample that I received from the producer’s US importer. My review has been conducted in compliance with my Samples Policy and the ISA wine tasting protocol and the opinions I am going to share on the wine are my own.

Montelvini, Asolo Prosecco Superiore Millesimato DOCG Extra DryIt has recently been reported that, in 2013, worldwide sales of Prosecco were for the first time greater than those of Champagne (307 million vs 304 million bottles, respectively – thank you Franklin Liquors for sharing the link to this piece of news).

In spite of such a commercial achievement, if you have been following this blog for a while, you may recall that generally speaking I am not a big fan of Prosecco, with very few exceptions. I just like the extra complexity and structure that is typical of a Classic Method sparkling wine (like Champagne or Franciacorta, for instance) over the simpler, fruitier profile of a Charmat-Martinotti Method sparkler (like Prosecco). If you are not familiar with the two methods, please refer to my previous posts on the Classic Method and on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

Having said that, I am always happy to try and taste new Prosecco’s to hopefully add new… “exceptions” to my list. So I was excited when representatives of Italian Prosecco producer Montelvini were kind enough to have a couple samples of their premium Prosecco (Montelvini, Prosecco di Asolo Superiore Millesimato Extra Dry “Venegazzù” DOCG NV – $15) delivered to me so I could taste it and possibly review it.

Now, let’s see how it was.

The Bottom Line

OverallI quite liked this Prosecco (despite being slightly irked by its label) and I appreciated its fine perlage, considering that the Charmat-Martinotti Method generally results in bigger bubbles. It is a nice, easy to drink sparkler with an appealing quality-to-price ratio: it has pleasant mouth flavors and mineral hints that make up for its not very complex or intense aromas. It definitely has its place as a Spring-y/Summer-y “cool but not intimidating” 😉 aperitivo.

Rating: Good and  Good – $

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Grape and the Appellation

The main grape variety that is used in the production of the wine Prosecco was called Prosecco Tondo (now Glera) which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to a rare variety that is indigenous to the Istria region of Croatia named Teran Bijeli. This evidence supports the theory of an Istrian origin for the Prosecco/Glera grape variety. Glera is a partly-aromatic white-berried grape variety (grape variety information taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012).

Prosecco wine is made in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (or simply Prosecco di ValdobbiadeneDOCG in the Veneto region, near the town of Treviso;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani (or Prosecco di Asolo) DOCG in the Veneto region, near and including the town of Asolo (this is the appellation of the wine we are reviewing today);
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which covers a vast territory stretching between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

Montelvini Estate, Asolo

The Montelvini estate in Asolo (image courtesy of Montelvini)

With regard to residual sugar levels, according to applicable regulations, Prosecco spumante wines may be produced in any of the following styles, and therefore except only in the Extra Brut (less than 6 gr/lt of residual sugar) or Sweet (more than 50 gr/lt of residual sugar) versions:

  • Brut (less than 15 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Extra Dry (12 to 20 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Dry (17 to 35 gr/lt of residual sugar – as in the case of the bottle that we are reviewing)
  • Demi-Sec (33 to 50 gr/lt of residual sugar, which would make it taste quite sweet).

For more detailed information about Prosecco and the Glera grape variety, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method and to the “Glera” entry in our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Producer and the Estate

The Serena family, who owns Montelvini, has been in the wine making business for 130 years in the hilly area surrounding the town of Asolo in Italy’s Veneto region. Nowadays, they manage 35 HA of vineyards in four different estates, with Glera, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon being the most cultivated grapes, accounting in the aggregate for 85% of the total vines, with an average density of 4,500 vines/HA.

Montelvini: Alberto, Sarah and Armando Serena

The Serena family (image courtesy of Montelvini)

The annual production is 3 million bottles, 20% of which are exported to 36 countries. The Montelvini winery accommodates 48 temperature-controlled autoclaves dedicated to the production of Charmat-Martinotti Prosecco sparkling wines.

Our Detailed Review

The wine we are going to review today is Montelvini, Prosecco di Asolo Superiore Millesimato Extra Dry “Venegazzù” DOCG NV, which retails in the U.S. for about $15.

The wine is made from 100% Glera grapes, has 12% ABV, a pressure of 5.6 ATM and comes in the “Extra Dry” variety, with 15 gr/lt residual sugar.

One thing that I did not like is the use of the word “Millesimato” on the label of the wine. In Italian that word refers to the vintage of a wine, particularly a sparkling wine, and is utilized to distinguish a vintage sparkler from a non-vintage one. However, the label of the Prosecco that we are reviewing does not contain any indication of the vintage of the wine, which makes the use of the term “Millesimato” pointless or even potentially misleading. I believe Montelvini should either keep the word “Millesimato” and include the year of the harvest (if their wine is in fact a vintage wine) or drop the use of “Millesimato” altogether if their wine is non-vintage.

Anyway, let’s move on to the actual review of this Prosecco.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was brilliant and pale straw yellow in color. Its bubbles were in the average in number, fine and long-lasting. A very nice perlage.

On the nose, its bouquet was moderately intensemoderately complex and of fair quality, with aromas of apple, white blossoms and hints of tangerine.

In the mouth, it was off-dry, with medium ABV and moderately smooth; it was acidic and tasty. It was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors reminiscent of apples with hints of tangerines and minerals. It had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning: do not cellar, drink now to enjoy its freshness.

Advertisements

Wine Review: Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico “Numero 10” 2009 DOC

Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico "Numero 10" DOCAs you may already know if you have been reading this blog for a while, I am not a big fan of Prosecco: with very few exceptions (as in the case of Le Colture), I prefer the greater structure, complexity and finer perlage of a good Classic Method sparkling wine over most Charmat-Martinotti Method Prosecco’s.

However… drum roll… enter Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico “Numero 10” DOC (€18), the game changer, the ideal bridge connecting Prosecco with Classic Method.

The Bottom Line

Overall, as I think you will be able to tell from my tasting notes, I really quite liked this Prosecco: personally, I applaud the producer who departed from the traditional way to make Prosecco (according to the Charmat-Martinotti Method) and instead went the Classic Method way. I think this gave to the Numero 10 that extra complexity and structure that I have almost regularly found lacking in the vast majority of the Prosecco’s that I have had so far. The choice of a relatively short period of aging on the lees also ensured that the secondary aromas would not become too pronounced at the expense of the fresh and fruity primary aromas of the Glera variety. All in all, a really solid sparkling wine for a reasonable price (at least in Italy): I seriously hope that the Numero 10 will become available in the US soon, maybe in time for next spring?… 😉

Rating: Good to Very Good and Recommended given its good QPR Good to Very Good – €

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

Classic Method vs. Charmat-Martinotti Method

Let’s start from the beginning: the world of sparkling wines (in Italian, “spumante“) is essentially divided into two camps: Classic Method sparklers (the archetype of which is Champagne) and Charmat-Martinotti Method sparklers (such as most Prosecco and Asti Spumante). We have discussed at length the differences between the two methods and the relevant production processes on previous posts, one regarding the Classic Method and the other one the Charmat-Martinotti Method, so you can refer to them in case of doubts.

The point here is that the wine we are going to review today is one of the very few Prosecco’s that are made according to the Classic Method, and therefore through in-bottle refermentation. Let’s dig deeper into it.

About the Grape and the Appellation

The main grape variety that is used in the production of the wine Prosecco was called Prosecco Tondo (now Glera) which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to a rare variety that is indigenous to the Istria region of Croatia named Teran Bijeli. This evidence supports the theory of an Istrian origin for the Prosecco/Glera grape variety. Glera is a partly-aromatic white-berried grape variety (grape variety information taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012).

Prosecco wine is made in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (or simply Prosecco di ValdobbiadeneDOCG in the Veneto region, near the town of Treviso;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG in the Veneto region, near and including the town of Asolo;
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which covers a vast territory stretching between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

The regulations of the two DOCG appellations require that their Prosecco wines be made for 85% or more from Glera grapes, to which up to 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera or Glera Lunga white-berried grapes may be blended. The regulations of the DOC appellation are similar but permit that a few additional grape varieties be blended to the Glera base grapes, as follows: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir.

For more detailed information about Prosecco and the Glera grape variety, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method and to the “Glera” entry in our Grape Variety Archive.

About the Producer

Valdo is one of the historical producers of Prosecco in the premium hilly Valdobbiadene area, near the town of Treviso, in Italy’s Veneto region: they have been in the sparkling wine business since 1926.

With its main offices smack in the center of the town of Valdobbiadene, Valdo nowadays is a big player, with an annual production of 5 million bottles, one third of which are exported.

The Valdo wine range is divided into four lines:

Our Detailed Review

Moving on to the actual review of Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico “Numero 10” 2009 DOC, I need to preliminarily point out that unfortunately at this time this wine is not among those in the Valdo range that are imported to the U.S.

I have reached out to Valdo’s U.S. importer to find out if they were planning on making it available in the largest wine market of the world any time soon and they told me that, while no decision has been made yet, it is something they are considering. So… not all hope is lost! 🙂

Be as it may, the bottle of Valdo “Numero 10” I had was a typical 12.5% ABV – in Italy, it retails for about €18.

The Numero 10 was made from 100% Glera white-berried grapes grown in Valdo’s vineyards in the premium Valdobbiadene area, which makes the Numero 10 a Blanc de Blancs. After the soft pressing of the grapes, the must goes through a first fermentation phase at 15C/59F. As a result of the subsequent in-bottle refermentation, the wine rests in bottle on its lees for 10 months, plus an additional 6 months following degorgement.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the flute, the Numero 10’s color was an intense straw yellow with golden hints; the bubbles in its perlage were numerousaverage in size and long-lasting.

On the nose, the bouquet of the Numero 10 was intense, moderately complex and fine, and especially it was immediately captivating as it seemed to merge the fresh and fruity primary aromas that are typical of the semi-aromatic Glera grapes with the more complex, secondary aromas deriving from the double fermentation process and aging on the lees that are instead typical of a Classic Method sparkling wine. So, its kaleidoscopic bouquet offered aromas of Granny Smith apples, herbs (mint), apricot, and hints of minerals (graphite, chalk) and yeast.

In the mouth, the Numero 10 was dry, with medium ABV and moderately smooth; it was acidic and tasty. It was medium-bodied and balanced, with intense and fine mouth flavors of minerals, brine, lime, Granny Smith apples and mint. It had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was mature (i.e., ready to be enjoyed now).

Wine Review: Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG

LeColture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCGSummer has finally made its way to us, with some delay. So, what is there more refreshing and satisfying than a chilled bottled of foamy bubbles?

Before we even continue, though, I feel I have a confession to make. While I love a glass of good sparkling wine, I am definitely partial to Champagne or anyway to quality Classic Method sparklers, such as a nice Franciacorta or Trento DOC. Instead, I am not a big fan of Prosecco, I have to admit, or more in general of sparkling wines made with the Charmat-Martinotti Method. I just prefer the greater structure, the more complex aromatic and flavor palette of the former over the latter. There, I said it.

This, however, is a question of personal taste and is not meant to say that there are no good Prosecco’s out there (although you definitely need to know which ones are the quality producers if you want to avoid disappointments) or that there is no place for a good bottle of a Charmat-Martinotti Method sparkler on your table! To prove this, today I am going to tell you about the one Charmat-Martinotti Method Prosecco that, to date, I like best among those that I have had an opportunity to taste so far: Le ColtureProsecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG ($30).

The Bottom Line

Overall, I really liked this premium Prosecco and all that it offers. My only gripe is about the price: 30 bucks is in my view in the high end of the range, even for a quality Prosecco. Personally, I think it should be in the $20 to 25 price band. Other than that, in my view, the perfect interplay between its off-dry taste (due to its higher residual sugars) and its refreshing acidity and minerality is what really makes this Prosecco. Certainly, Champagne (or even a Classic Method spumante) it ain’t, but nor does it claim to be. There is definitely a place for this Prosecco in my fridge (and I would think it would not be wasted in yours either!) to enjoy chilled with friends on one of those warm Summer nights!

Rating: Good to Very Good Good to Very Good – $$

(Explanation of our Rating and Pricing Systems)

About the Appellations

Prosecco wine is made prevalently or exclusively from partly-aromatic Glera (also known as Prosecco – see more about this below) white-berried grapes in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene (or simply Prosecco di Valdobbiadene) DOCG in the Veneto region, near the town of Treviso;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG in the Veneto region, near and including the town of Asolo;
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which covers a vast territory stretching between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

The regulations of the two DOCG appellations require that their Prosecco wines be made 85% or more from Glera grapes, to which up to 15% of Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera or Glera Lunga white-berried grapes may be blended. The regulations of the DOC appellation are similar but permit that a few additional grape varieties be blended to the Glera base grapes, as follows: Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir.

Prosecco is one of the main examples of a sparkling wine made according to the so-called Charmat-Martinotti Method, although there are a few producers who also make some very good Classic Method Prosecco’s. Compared to the Classic Method, the Charmat-Martinotti Method is a quicker and cheaper production process for sparkling wine, which is known to maximize primary (or varietal) aromas although it generally sacrifices the wine structure and the finest perlage. For more detailed information, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

With regard to residual sugar levels, according to applicable regulations, Prosecco spumante wines may be produced in any of the following styles, and therefore except only in the Extra Brut (less than 6 gr/lt of residual sugar) or Sweet (more than 50 gr/lt of residual sugar) versions:

  • Brut (less than 15 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Extra Dry (12 to 20 gr/lt of residual sugar)
  • Dry (17 to 35 gr/lt of residual sugar – as in the case of the bottle that we are reviewing)
  • Demi-Sec (33 to 50 gr/lt of residual sugar, which would make it taste quite sweet).

About the Grape

Here things for Prosecco tend to complicate a bit…

Up until recently, Prosecco was the name for three things: the wine, its main grape variety and the homonymous village near the town of Trieste (in the Italian region of Friuli) that probably gave the wine and the grape their name. Relatively easy so far.

Then in 2009, with Prosecco’s popularity and sales soaring (in 2011 the overall production of Prosecco was about 265 million bottles, 55% of which were exported), the consortium of Prosecco producers obtained an official change in the name of the grape variety, from Prosecco to Glera, so that Prosecco would only be the name of the wine (and not of the grape variety too) and could therefore be reserved for its designation of origin, thus preventing other producers from other Italian regions or other countries from calling their sparkling wines Prosecco (in this regard, see our recent post about the dispute with Croatia to require that they rename their own Prosek wine).

At any rate, the main grape variety that is used in the production of the wine Prosecco was called Prosecco Tondo (now Glera) which DNA profiling has shown to be identical to a rare variety that is indigenous to the Istria region of Croatia named Teran Bijeli. This evidence supports the theory of an Istrian origin for the Prosecco/Glera grape variety.

Other grapes that may be used in the production of the wine Prosecco and that used to be considered clonal variations of Prosecco Tondo, but DNA analysis has proved to be distinct varieties, are Prosecco Lungo and Prosecco Nostrano (the latter, by the way, has been proven to be identical to Malvasia Bianca Lunga).

(Information on the grape varieties taken from Wine Grapes, by Robinson-Harding-Vouillamoz, Allen Lane 2012)

About the Estate

Le Colture estate is located in proximity to Santo Stefano di Valdobbiadene, in the heart of Veneto’s Prosecco district, and encompasses about 45 HA of vineyards. The bottle that we are about to review is made from 100% Glera grapes grown in Le Colture’s vineyards in the high quality, hilly subzone known as Superiore di Cartizze and located near the village of San Pietro di Barbozza (in the surroundings of the town of Valdobbiadene) within the broader territory of the Prosecco di Valdobbiadene DOCG appellation. The grapes are harvested between mid September and mid October and the wine is made, as is traditionally the case for Prosecco’s, through the refermentation of the must in pressurized autoclaves according to the Charmat-Martinotti Method. Please refer to our previous post about it for more information about this method, the main steps it entails and how it differs from the Classic Method that is utilized for making (among others) Champagne, Franciacorta and Trento DOC sparkling wines.

Our Detailed Review

Let’s now get to the actual review of Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG, which retails in the US for about $30.

The wine is made from 100% Glera grapes, has 11% ABV and comes in the “Dry” variety, which means that it has fairly high residual sugar, in the amount of 23 gr/l. At 4.5 ATM, the pressure in the bottle is also gentler than that which you would generally expect in a Classic Method wine (about 6 ATM), except in a Franciacorta Saten variety.

As usual, for my review I will use a simplified version of the ISA wine tasting protocol that we described in a previous post: should you have doubts as to any of the terms used below please refer to that post for a refresher.

In the glass, the wine was brilliant with a pleasant straw yellow color. As to the all-important perlage, its bubbles were numerousaverage in size (not the finest, but certainly not coarse either) and the chains of bubbles were definitely long-lasting.

On the nose, its bouquet was moderately intense, moderately complex and fine, with Spring-y aromas of jasmine flowers, peach, citrus and apple: something capable in and of itself to put you in a good mood. 🙂

In the mouth, this Prosecco was off-dry, with low ABV and moderately smooth; it was acidic and tasty. It was light-bodied and pleasantly balanced, with its lively acidity and tasty minerals nicely counterbalancing its higher residual sugars any preventing any flatly sweet feeling. Its mouth flavors were intense and fine, showing a nice match with its aromatic palette, with refreshing notes of peach, citrus and apple. It had a medium finish and its evolutionary state was mature, meaning: do not cellar, drink it now and enjoy its freshness.

Landscape Arch at Night and a Few Night Photography Tips

Landscape Arch at night

I took this image of Landscape Arch at Arches National Park at night (which you actually can see much better on my Web site), with the lights of the town of Moab in the background. With certain over photographed subjects, sometimes you need to be creative to come up with images that are not cliché and that still represent those towering creations of nature in their beauty and wildness. Night photography can be an option to resort to, if you are prepared to adjust your meal schedule around it and if you master the technique to get the shot.

A few tips on night photography:

1. Scout your spot earlier in the day to previsualize your shot and identify where precisely you will want to set up later in the day

2. Get to your spot before sunset so, if suitable, you can squeeze in some bonus sunset shots but most importantly you can set up your gear, frame your shot and focus when you can still see something!

3. If you shoot digital, (i) make sure the long exposure noise reduction function of your camera and, if it has one, its mirror lock up feature are activated; (ii) secure your camera to a sturdy tripod; (iii) with your camera in M exposure mode, set your aperture to a low f/stop (say anywhere between f/2.8 and f/4.0 or thereabouts) and set your shutter speed and ISO to a base exposure (of course, you will have to slow down your shutter speed as the night progresses); (iv) if you have a cable release (which you definitely should), connect it to your camera

4. Shoot a series of images, starting from twilight (when the sky will still be tinged with delicate orange, pink, magenta and violet hues) going forward to when the sky will turn pitch black, adjusting your exposure accordingly

5. Decide whether you want the stars to record as dots or streaks of light (star trails) and set your shutter speed/ISO accordingly (for best results, try to keep your ISO as low as possible, but you may have to compromise a bit): as a rule of thumb, bear in mind that anything slower than say 15/20 sec will cause at least some of the stars to streak noticeably – for pleasing star trails you will need exposures north of 30 seconds up to several minutes or even hours (the longer the exposure, the longer the trails – remember, every time you double the time the shutter stays open, with the others parameters staying the same, you add one extra stop of light to your exposure): this means that on your camera your shutter speed dial shall be set to Bulb and you will have to use a cable release and to experiment timing your exposure yourself (an illuminated digital watch may come in handy)

6. Be aware that the longer your exposure, the greater the chances that orbiting satellites and commercial airplanes will ruin your shot leaving all sorts of dotted luminous trails across it…

And by the way, today in the US is Nature Photography Day, a day that in the last 8 years has been designated by NANPA (the North American Nature Photography Association) “to promote the enjoyment of nature photography, and to explain how images have been used to advance the cause of conservation and protect plants, wildlife, and landscapes locally and worldwide”. So, if you are game, you might as well be inspired by the night photography tips on this post and go out with your camera and tripod tonight to give it a shot!  🙂

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

A Food Photography Primer

Over time, a few readers over at Flora’s Table who seem to have been enjoying the food images that I make and publish in that blog have been asking that I write a post with a few pointers about food photography: today is the day for that. Bear in mind that what follows is not intended to be a comprehensive course on food photography, but just a reflection on some basic rules of photography that play an important role in making a good food photograph.

There is no magic, food is just one of the subjects of studio photography and food photography is still photography, so the same basic principles apply. As such, there are three main guiding criteria that everyone with an interest in food photography should focus on:

1. Composition
2. Lighting
3. Post-Processing

Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

1. Composition

Composition is an element that can literally make or break a photograph. A successful image, including one of a food item, needs to have a strong, clean, balanced composition or it will look flat and boring at best. Here are a few pointers as to how to tackle this aspect:

  • Devise a plan before your shoot: pre-visualize how you would like your image to look like and figure out what you need to accomplish your vision (in terms of props, lighting, background and focal length of your lens)
  • Set up well ahead of time, when you have no time pressure: the shoot should be set up according to your plan and your vision, with everything in place except the food you are going to photograph. Take a few test shots in the same light that you would use for the real thing and see how your image looks like through the lens you chose. Use this opportunity to find out what does not work and to move things around or change camera/lighting settings until you achieve a pleasing composition that conveys your vision. Add the actual food item to be photographed only when you are all set and ready to go, so when you photograph it, it is going to be perfectly fresh, in top condition
  • Although composition is subjective and should convey your own vision, there are a few “rules” that will generally make your image a stronger one, including the following:
    • Less is more: keep your composition clean and simple;
    • Compose in such a way that the main subject of your image is immediately obvious to everyone;
    • Avoid blank space near the edges of your frame: make sure that your subject and other meaningful elements of your composition fill the frame in a balanced and pleasing way, making sure that you have a strong foreground, middle ground and background in your image;
    • Very rarely does a subject that is in the smack center of your image look good (unless you are going for an extreme close-up where your subject fills the entire frame): try to create some more dynamism by for instance resorting to the rule of thirds, that is placing your main subject off center, near one of the corners of your frame, or positioning important elements in the frame along an imaginary diagonal line;
    • Know your camera’s commands well and select a focal length and an aperture suitable for what you are trying to accomplish: do you want to achieve a compressed look with quite shallow a depth of field? Select a telephoto lens. Do you want to place a strong subject in the immediate foreground in the context of a wider scene with greater depth of field and a clearer sense of depth? Go for a wide angle lens. Do you want more depth of field? Select a smaller aperture (bigger f/stop number). Do you want only a narrow area in your image to be in sharp focus with the remainder being rendered as a soft blur? Pick a large aperture (smaller f/stop number). Every tool (i.e., your lenses) should be used for the purpose it is intended for and ultimately to realize your vision.

2. Lighting

Lighting is the essence of photography (the very word “photography” comes from Greek and means “writing with light“) and yet it is an often overlooked component in a photograph. Almost never will a photograph taken in bad light look good. Once again, here are a few things to bear in mind while you are planning for your shoot:

  • If you want to photograph using natural light, never set up in direct sunlight (you would end up with harsh, unattractive contrast) – prefer the light of an overcast day or light coming from a northern facing window or skylight, but be prepared to supplement it with some extra light source so as to avoid that the image looks too flat – also, be ready to use a tripod (especially if youintend to use a smaller aperture) as your shutter speed will likely be fairly slow, unless you crank up the ISO which however may end up in a noisy (as in, grainy) image
  • Stay away at all costs from your camera’s pop-up flash and never place a flash head directly onto your camera’s hot shoe as this arrangement would give you flat, unattractive front light: remember, photography (like painting) is the art of creating the illusion of a 3D object in a 2D medium, and the key to achieve that is creating visible, pleasing shadows in your image
  • In order to create visible shadows you need to ensure that your main light source (AKA your key light) is off axis with your camera: side lighting and backlighting are both effective ways to create shadows
  • Generally, in food photography you want to achieve soft shadows and stay away from harsh, unpleasant shadows. The way to do this is to use a large light source or, if you don’t have one, to make your light source as big as you can: remember, the bigger the light source, the softer the shadows it will cast. This is why photographing food (or making people portraits) in natural light on an overcast day is something appropriate: thanks to the cloud cover, the sky turns into a gigantic source of diffused, soft light. In the studio, soft light can be achieved in several ways: by using a light modifier, such as a soft box (essentially, a big diffuser) or an umbrella (a reflector) or (assuming you have white walls and ceiling) by bouncing the light of your flash head off a wall or the ceiling
  • If you need to open up a bit the shadows that you have created, so as to reduce the contrast and provide more detail in the parts of your image that are in the shadow, you should use a fill light, which is another light source coming from a different direction and with a lesser intensity than your key light (you don’t want to obliterate your shadows altogether, you only want to make them lighter): a second flash head at a weaker setting or a reflector that bounces some of the light coming from your key light back into the scene are both good solutions to achieve this (tip: some aluminum kitchen foil crumbled and then flattened out works fairly well as an improvised silver reflector)

3. Post-Processing

Neither in the “good ol’ days” of film-based photography nor in nowadays digital photography world will a great image come straight out of the camera. While the old GIGO rule still applies (Garbage In, Garbage Out – meaning, if you start out with a bad image, it will be very difficult that you may turn it into a good one in post-processing alone), even a very solid image out of the camera will require some extent of post processing to become a great photograph. A few tips:

  • Shoot RAW, not Jpeg: by shooting RAW you will retain the maximum flexibility on your files and will not have to live with choices irreversibly made by the camera – the possibility of changing your white balance into whatever light temperature you desire is by itself totally worth the choice of shooting RAW instead of Jpeg
  • Learn how to use at least the basic features of Photoshop (or whatever other image editing software of your choice): at a minimum, learn how to crop your image (should you need to); how to work with levels and curves and with the dodge/burn tool to control contrast and exposure; how to use the saturation and color balance commands to control color; how to effectively sharpen an image; and finally how to work with layers so every change you make can be reversed at a later time if need be
  • Generally, be subtle with your changes and only aim them at optimizing your image so as to extract all of its potential from that digital file and turn a good image into a great one.

That’s it! I hope the above may be of help or inspiration to some of you to push the envelope a little bit and try to apply all or some of the above tips to your own food photography and see what comes out of it. And especially, have fun in the process and experiment!

If you are interested in seeing more of my food images, feel free to check out my photography Web site.

Painting with Light: Incense Cedar Tree at Night

Incense cedar tree at night in Yosemite Valley, CA

This image was taken at night in Yosemite Valley, CA, where I set up my tripod before dark, focused my wide angle lens on this gnarled incense tree in the background, set a base exposure, composed my shot paying attention that no branches of the tree intersected the top of the surrounding mountains and waited for darkness to descend. Then it was just a question of taking several shots at different times at night, with the sky taking on different hues, and sometimes experimenting with “light painting”, as in this image.

Painting with light is a hit and miss technique that may be performed in night photography situations, and that is achieved by shining a flashlight on the foreground subject, or anyway a foreground element, to accentuate it and give it some texture in the final image. There are no hard and fast rules for how long to light your subject, and the photographer is best advised to take several shots with different intensities of lighting, as there is no way of telling which one will turn out to be the most pleasant one. On those circumstances I always take a few shots in full darkness too, with the tree that is completely silhouetted against the lighter sky, because sometimes those may turn out to be the best option.

In this case, however, I think the moderate amount of “light painting” on the incense tree works to the benefit of the image as it gives kind of an eerie feel to the gnarled tree, accentuating its tortured limbs that stretch out in all directions and one of which points to Yosemite Falls.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

Pan Blur Technique and Barren-Ground Caribou

Pan blur of barren-ground caribou (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus)

Before getting to the point of this post, let me just quickly say thank you to all of you who have been reading and following Clicks & Corks so far: this new blog was officially launched on February 10 and less than a month later it has had over 1,000 views, 210 comments and 71 followers. Your support and your active contributions to C&C are nothing short of exceptional and they are a phenomenal reward to the effort that goes into trying to publish quality content that hopefully many of you may find interesting and worth reading or viewing. Once again, thank you.

But let’s move on to today’s subject: pan blurs. Pan blurs are fun to do and sometimes they may offer a solution when freezing an action shot either is not an option or would not yield an interesting enough visual result (as would have been the case with the running barren-ground caribou cow and calves (Rangifer tarandus groenlandicus) that are portrayed in the image above).

Successful pan blurs convey a sense of motion in a painterly, sort of impressionistic way, as if the “light painter” behind the lens (all photographers are essentially painters who rely on the qualities of light instead of paint and paintbrushes!) had chosen a quick, thick and essential brushstroke style.

The situations in which I find myself using the pan blur technique the most are those when my subject is in motion and either light levels are so low that attaining a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action would be impossible or impractical (as is often the case when photographing at the fringes of the day in the outdoors or in dark indoor contexts, such as a poorly lit gym or ice rink) or the subject and the context the subject is in are not interesting enough to be captured in a crisp, detailed shot that freezes the action. In these instances, instead of not taking any shot at all, I switch to pan blur gear and see what I come up with. A desire to convey a strong, visual sense of speed when photographing a fast living thing or object in motion may be another very good reason to resort to a pan blur.

Should you be wondering how to make a pan blur, just follow these steps:

  • Stick a telephoto lens on your camera;
  • Set your exposure using the M or S modes and pick a fairly slow shutter speed (how slow depends on how fast your subject is and how “streaky” you want your background to be, but somewhere between 1/8 and 1/60 sec should get you in the ballpark most of the times);
  • Set your AF system to an active tracking mode;
  • Position yourself such that your moving subject will be in front of you and its trajectory will run from one side to the other (left to right or right to left);
  • Stand still and, by rotating your torso/arms, aim your camera to the side your subject is supposed to come from;
  • As soon as your subject is in sight, lock focus on it and start tracking it by panning your camera in a fluid motion in sync with your subject and keeping it in the frame;
  • When your subject is by and large in front of you, without stopping your fluid panning motion, trip the shutter to expose one or more frames;
  • Keep tracking your subject for a few more moments just to make sure not to interrupt your panning when the shutter is still open.

The whole point of this technique is to blur the background and the moving parts of your subject (e.g., the limbs of a living thing, the wheels of a vehicle…) while retaining some key part of your subject relatively in focus (such as the head of a living thing or some distinctive feature in a vehicle).

Variants of this technique include the use of a flash set to rear curtain sync, which accentuates the sharpness of the subject while retaining the streaky background, or extreme pan blurs. Extreme pan blurs call for even slower shutter speeds so that not only the background but also the subject is blurred, although to some lesser extent than the background: when successfully performed, these shots may yield even more artistic, painterly abstract results, which can be equally rewarding.

Pan blurs are kind of hit and miss by definition, especially with fast moving subjects, so be prepared to take several practice shots to master this technique before using it in any important situation.

If you would like to see more images of mine, feel free to browse my Galleries.

As per my copyright notice, please respect my work and do not download, reproduce or use the image above without first seeking my consent. Thank you :-)

Psychobubbles Part IV: Some of the Best Prosecco’s

Cheers!

There we go, at last our series of posts on Italian spumante is coming to an end, with this last installment focusing on a few recommendations for quality Italian Method spumante wines.

As we said on the second post of our series, the two most renowned Italian Method sparkling wines are Prosecco and Asti Spumante. Beside being made from different grapes (Glera for the former, Moscato Bianco for the latter), Prosecco is generally produced as a dry wine (as per the applicable specifications, it can be produced in any of the variants ranging from Brut to Demisec in terms of residual sugar), while Asti Spumante is a sweet dessert wine with over 50 gr/lt of residual sugar.

On this post, we will just concentrate on Prosecco because… I have to admit it: I am not a huge fan of Asti Spumante or sweet sparkling wines in general. Should any of our readers be interested in a couple of recommendations of quality Asti Spumante wines, feel free to leave a comment on this page and I will gladly oblige 😉

Montesel, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore "Riva dei Fiori" Brut DOCGBefore getting to the actual recommendations, let’s just say a few words about Prosecco in general: Prosecco is made prevalently or exclusively from partly-aromatic Glera (also known as Prosecco) white-berried grapes in two Italian DOCG appellations and in one more loosely regulated inter-regional DOC appellation, as follows:

  • Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG in the Veneto region;
  • Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG in the Veneto region;
  • Prosecco Spumante DOC, an appellation which stretches between the regions of Veneto and Friuli.

Prosecco is one of the main examples of a sparkling wine made according to the so-called Italian Method production process, although there are a few producers who also make some very good Classic Method Prosecco’s, such as Valdo‘s Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOCG (see, our full review of this outstanding Prosecco).

Bepin De Eto, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut DOCGCompared to the Classic Method, the Charmat-Martinotti Method is a quicker and cheaper production process for sparkling wine, which is known to maximize primary (or varietal) aromas although it generally sacrifices the wine structure and the finest perlage. For more detailed information, please refer to our post on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.

Now, let’s move on to a few recommendations of quality Prosecco’s:

  • Adami, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut “Bosco di Gica” DOCG (95-97% Glera grapes/3-5% Chardonnay grapes, with aromas of wisteria, pear, apple, peach, Mirabelle plum and herbs);
  • Astoria, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore “Cuvée Tenuta Val de Brun” Extra Dry DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with a bouquet of white flowers, pear, apple and citrus);
  • Bepin De Eto, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with scents of rose, wisteria, apple, pear, peach, bread crust and minerals – commendable is the investment made by the owners to achieve a very good density of 4,000 vines/HA);Adami, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore Brut "Bosco di Gica" DOCG
  • Le Colture, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze Dry DOCG (100% Glera, with a bouquet of white flowers, peach, citrus and herbs);
  • Marsuret, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Superiore “San Boldo” Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with aromas of mint, broom, elder blossoms, apple, citrus and minerals);
  • Montesel, Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene Superiore “Riva dei Fiori” Brut DOCG (100% Glera grapes, with scents of elder blossoms, wisteria, pear, apple, lime and minerals);
  • Nino Franco, Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze DOCG (100% Glera, made in the finest sub-zone of the appellation known as Cartizze and displaying fine aromas of jasmine blossoms, passion fruit, citrus, herbs and minerals);Valdo, Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOC
  • Nino Franco, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene “Grave di Stecca” Brut (100% Glera, with scents of wild flowers, almond, apricot and citrus).

Hope you have an opportunity to enjoy some of these wines and, if you do, feel free to share your opinion here.

Psychobubbles Part III: Some of the Best Franciacorta and Trento Spumante’s

Cheers!

After discussing the Classic Method production process and the Charmat-Martinotti Method production process in the previous two posts, our series of posts on Italian spumante is coming to an end: today, I will pass on a few recommendations of some among the best Italian Classic Method spumante wines, at least in my view, while the next and last post will focus on recommendations specific to Charmat-Martinotti Method wines.

Before we get into the actual wines, just a few words about the best Italian appellations for Classic Method sparkling wines. In Italy there are four appellations that are exclusively reserved to the production of Méthode Champenoise wines, as follows:

  • Franciacorta DOCG, in the Lombardia region (permitted grapes: at least 50% of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir, along with up to 50% of Pinot Blanc – minimum aging on the lees: 18 months, with the “Riserva” version requiring a minimum of 60 months);
  • Trento DOC, in the Trentino region (permitted grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and/or Pinot Meunier – minimum aging on the lees: 15 months, with the “Riserva” version requiring a minimum of 36 months);
  • Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico DOCG, in the Lombardia region (permitted grapes: at least 70% Pinot Noir, with the remaining maximum 30% coming from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and/or Pinot Blanc – minimum aging on the lees: 15 months); and
  • Alta Langa DOCG, in the Piemonte region (permitted grapes: at least 90% of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir).

Berlucchi, Franciacorta Brut '61 DOCG

Beside those four appellations that are reserved to the production of Classic Method spumante wines, several other Italian appellations permit the production of Classic Method sparkling wines among other permitted wines (a few examples being Veneto‘s Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG or Piemonte‘s Cortese di Gavi DOCG or Sardinia‘s Vermentino di Gallura DOCG).

Very broadly speaking, the best Classic Method Italian spumante wines can be found in the Franciacorta DOCG and in the Trento DOC appellations. Below are a few recommendations of very good Classic Method wines with good quality/price ratio from those two appellations that, should you come across them, you should definitely consider trying out:

(A) FRANCIACORTA DOCG

  • Berlucchi, Franciacorta Brut ’61 DOCG (85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir; 18 months of aging on the lees): a solid Francicaorta with hints of citrus, pineapple and pastry.
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCGBerlucchi, Cellarius Brut DOCG (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 30 months of aging on the lees): this is simply delightful, one of my favorite Franciacorta ever. It is a little more expensive than the ’61, but in my view well worth the little extra for what it gives you back: freshly baked bread crust,  apple and citrus, with a mineral note, just wonderful. Unfortunately, it is not imported in the United States yet, but it sounds like the guys at Berlucchi are seriously considering whether this choice should change in the future: I sure hope it will some time soon!
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta Brut DOCG (95% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Noir; 24 months of aging on the lees): an excellent choice for the money, with pleasant aromas of wildflowers, citrus, bread crust and peach.
  • Ferghettina, Franciacorta Pas Dosé Riserva 33 DOCG (100% Chardonnay; 72 months of aging on the lees): magnificent and more expensive, one of Ferghettina’s top of the line wines, with scents of bread crust, pastry, citrus, pineapple, hazelnut complemented by mineral and slightly toasty hints.
    Cavit, Trento Brut Altemasi Graal Riserva DOC
  • Bellavista, Cuvée Brut DOCG (80% Chardonnay, 18% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Blanc, 36 months of aging on the lees): very pleasant, with aromas of citrus, bread crust and peach.
  • Bellavista, Gran Cuvée Brut DOCG (72% Chardonnay, 28% Pinot Noir; 48 months of aging on the lees): wonderful albeit quite expensive wine, with a complex bouquet of wildflowers, pastry, citrus and pineapple and lingering aftertaste.
  • Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta Brut Cuvée Prestige DOCG (75% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir, 10% Pinot Blanc; 25 months of aging on the lees): very good choice with aromas of wildflowers, bread crust, peach and almond.
    Dorigati, Trento Brut Methius Riserva DOC
  • Ca’ del Bosco, Franciacorta Cuvée Annamaria Clementi DOCG (55% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Blanc, 20% Pinot Noir; 84 months of aging on the lees): okay, this is really expensive, but it is also sublime: the finest perlage along with a complex bouquet of peach, honey, almond, dried nuts and subtle mineral hints of gunflint – a delightful sin.

(B) TRENTO DOC

  • Cavit, Trento Brut Altemasi Graal Riserva DOC (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir; 72 months of aging on the lees): quite expensive, but of excellent quality, with aromas of pineapple, citrus, bread crust coupled with a touch of incense and mineral hints.
  • Maso Martis, Trento Brut Riserva DOCDorigati, Trento Brut Methius Riserva DOC (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir; 60 months of aging on the lees): yet another great choice, with aromas of magnolia blossoms, citrus, pineapple, bread crust, vanilla.
  • Maso Martis, Trento Brut Riserva DOC (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay; 52 months of aging on the lees): an exquisitely refined wine, with a wide bouquet of bread crust, wildflowers, apple, citrus, banana, butter and slightly oaky due to partial aging in barrique barrels. Wonderful.
  • Ferrari, Trento Brut Perlé DOC (100% Chardonnay; 60 months of aging on the lees): an excellent wine, with aromas of magnolia blossoms, citrus, apple, melon and pastry.

That’s all for now – stock up and drink good wine!  🙂

Psychobubbles Part II: An Overview of Méthode Charmat-Martinotti (or Italian Method) Spumante

Cheers!

On our previous post we started our journey into the world of Italian spumante by covering the basics, very briefly touching upon Champagne, introducing the two main processes to make a natural sparkling wine, the Champenoise or Classic Method and the Charmat-Martinotti or Italian Method, and finally going through the main steps of the Classic Method production process. So, if you missed that post, you may want to go through it first and then dive into this second chapter of the “spumante saga” 😉

On today’s post we will briefly discuss how and when the Charmat-Martinotti Method came to be, we will then point out the main differences between the production processes for the Italian Method and the Classic Method and finally we will go through the main steps of the Charmat-Martinotti Method, including its variant used in the production of Asti Spumante.

Let’s therefore start with some history. The development of the most commonly utilized alternative process to make a sparkling wine, the so-called Martinotti Method or Charmat Method or even Italian Method, took place at the end of the XIX century, precisely in 1895 when Federico Martinotti, who was in charge of the Royal Enological Station in Asti, invented a steel pressurized and refrigerated vessel known as “autoclave” that is used to make Italian Method spumante wines. This alternative process is also known as “Charmat Method” because a French engineer by the name of Eugéne Charmat adapted the design of Martinotti’s autoclave to suit industrial production of sparkling wine and rolled out the product in 1907. Considering the contributions made by both such gentlemen to devising such alternative production process, I think the proper way to identify it would be “Charmat-Martinotti Method.”

Now, let’s get a little more into the specifics of how the Italian Method differs from the Classic Method and what this means to you if you want to buy a bottle of wine made according to one versus the other of such production processes.

First of all, let’s start by saying that two of the most renown Italian Method spumante wines are:

  • Prosecco (although there are a few producers who also make very good Classic Method Prosecco’s, such as Valdo‘s Prosecco Brut Metodo Classico Numero 10 DOCG). Prosecco is made prevalently or exclusively from partly-aromatic Glera (also known as Prosecco) grapes in either one of the following two DOCG appellations of the Veneto region: Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG or Prosecco dei Colli Asolani DOCG as well as in the more loosely regulated DOC appellation Prosecco Spumante DOC, which stretches between Veneto and Friuli; and
  • Asti Spumante, which is made exclusively from aromatic Moscato Bianco grapes in Piemonte’s DOCG appellation Asti Spumante.

Generally speaking, Prosecco is made as a dry wine: according to applicable regulations, it may be produced in all variants between Brut (less than 15 gr/lt of residual sugar) and Demi-Sec (33 to 50 gr/lt of residual sugar, which would make it fairly sweet tasting), but your best bets are in the Brut, Extra Dry (12 to 20 gr/lt of residual sugar) or Dry (17 to 35 gr/lt of residual sugar) versions.

Asti Spumante, instead, is typically a sweet dessert sparkling wine, with over 50 gr/lt of residual sugar. So, do not serve Asti Spumante with appetizers – just keep it chilled until the end of your meal and pair it with a dessert.

On our previous post, we saw how two key features of the Classic Method are its in-bottle refermentation process of the base wines and then the generally long period of time spent by Classic Method wines aging on their lees before their being shipped off to wholesalers and retailers worldwide.

What makes Italian Method sparkling wines generally less expensive than Classic Method wines and different in terms of aromas and taste is mainly their different production process. For Italian Method wines, this is much shorter because refermentation of the base wine(s) takes place in a pressurized autoclave instead of in-bottle and so does their much shorter aging time on their lees. Essentially, after the production of the base wine(s), the entire refermentation, aging and bottling phases of an Italian Method spumante all take place in an isobaric, refrigerated environment inside an autoclave, which dramatically shortens production time.

In real life, what does this mean to you? Well, for starters it means that if you buy an Italian Method spumante (like Prosecco, for instance) it will feel different both in the nose and in the mouth compared to a Classic Method sparkling wine (such as a Franciacorta or a Trento). This is because, by aging often for years on their lees, Classic Method wines develop a number of intriguing secondary and tertiary aromas, such as the quite notorious bread crust or “just baked bread” aroma.

Because of the different production process and the much shorter aging time, most Italian Method wines have fewer (or less distinct) secondary and tertiary aromas, but make up for it by being generally made from aromatic grapes (as is the case for Asti Spumante, which is made from aromatic Moscato Bianco grapes) or partly-aromatic grapes (such as Glera, also known as Prosecco) and therefore emphasizing the primary or varietal aromas of the grape(s) their base wine(s) are made out of.

In other words, chances are that if you pop a bottle of Classic Method sparkling wine you will get a broader, more complex aromatic palette and mouth feels while if you pour a few glasses of a quality Italian Method spumante you will likely get a fresher, simpler wine with quite distinct flowery and fruity aromas.

Other differences between a Classic Method wine and an Italian Method one are that the former generally has a color that is warmer in hue, a finer perlage and more structure than the latter. Regarding structure, this is a bit of a generalization as it is essentially dependent on the grape varieties that are used for making the base wines, so the point holds true especially for Classic Method wines that have Pinot Noir in their cuvée (a grape variety that is known to confer structure to the wine) and, even more so, for Blanc de Noirs.

Let’s take a little detour here: on our previous post we said that the base wines of a Classic Method sparkling wine are made from all or some of the following grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (as far as Champagne is concerned), which last grape variety in Italy is generally replaced by different grapes, such as Pinot Blanc (as far as Italian Classic Method spumante is concerned). So, what we could call the “kosher” version of Champagne or Classic Method wines is made out of a cuvée produced from all three of such base grapes. However, there are two main variants from the “kosher” version, that are known as Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs.

The former is a wine made exclusively out of permitted white-berried grapes (in the case of Champagne, this means a Chardonnay-only wine), which is generally fresher, gentler and of lighter body, very suitable for instance as an appetizer or paired with delicate flavored seafood.

The latter is just the opposite, that is a wine made exclusively or prevalently out of permitted black-berried grapes (again, in the case of Champagne, this means Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier), which is generally a more structured, more complex wine that is more suitable to be served with an appropriate pasta dish or even main course.

Although we will provide a more in depth overview of what a proper wine tasting should entail in a future post, I think it is important to point out certain distinctive features that everyone with an interest in wine can have fun identifying and assessing in a sparkling wine:

  1. Color: this varies depending on the grapes used in the base wines, but it is one of the characteristics that should always be appreciated, be it a warmer straw or even golden yellow color of a well-aged Classic Method wine or a paler straw yellow, sometimes with greenish hints, of an Italian Method wine;
  2. Perlage: this is the key feature to be assessed in a sparkling wine, which oftentimes either makes or breaks the wine – what you are looking for here is the three distinct characteristics of a quality perlage: (i) fine-grained bubbles; (ii) abundant bubbles forming uninterrupted chains from the bottom of the glass to the surface; and (iii) long-lasting formation of new chains of bubbles;
  3. Bouquet: although fine-nosed wine tasters can go wild identifying the slightest hints of this or that, anyone can take pleasure in picking up the scents of a good sparkling wine and trying to identify some of the more distinct aromas, such as bread crust or yeast, apple, almond or wild berries that may be present in a Classic Method wine or the flowery, fruity notes of a Prosecco, often reminiscent of white flowers and pear or again the sweet aromas of sage and peach of an Asti Spumante.

Before we get to the description of the main steps of the Charmat-Martinotti Method, a few practical pieces of advice to maximize your sparkling wine tasting experience (by the way, these apply to any sparkling wine, regardless of its being a Classic Method or an Italian Method wine):

  • The proper glass to serve a sparkling wine (except only the sweet ones, on which see below) is a flute, not a cup: this is because the elongated and narrow shape of the flute both emphasizes perlage and concentrates the fine aromas in the nose;
  • While we are at it, much to Francesca’s dismay (she just loooves her tinted glasses), all glasses you serve wine in, regardless of it being sparkling or still, red, white or rosé, must be made of clear glass or crystal: no matter how “cute” the tint of those pretty glasses you have sitting in that special cupboard, tinted glass is a no no because it kills right away one of the most important features of a wine: its own color!
  • Ideally, your flutes should not be washed with soap, you should just use hot water instead and they should be dried using a natural fiber cloth (such as cotton or linen): this is because, in order for perlage to be at its best, those chains of bubbles need to hang on to something inside the glass, so minuscule lints of cotton or linen are just perfect to maximize your favorite spumante’s perlage, while an ultra-clean, super shiny inside of the flute is going to penalize it.
  • Finally, the proper glass to enjoy an Asti Spumante or any other sweet sparkling wine is instead a cup with a wide, shallow bowl, because its larger opening tames a little bit the generally exuberant varietal aromas, while its shallower depth is not so detrimental to the often coarser, less refined perlage of that kind of sparkling wines.

Main Steps in the Charmat-Martinotti Method Production Process:

  1. Soft pressing of the base wine grape(s)
  2. Treatments of the must (e.g., clarification and application of sulfur dioxide)
  3. Fermentation of the base wine(s) by the addition of selected yeast
  4. Where necessary, blending of the base wines
  5. Transfer of the base wine(s) into a pressurized, refrigerated autoclave with the addition of sugar and selected yeast
  6.  Refermentation in autoclave, which makes the wine bubbly because the carbon dioxide created by the yeast as a byproduct of alcoholic fermentation remains trapped inside the pressurized autoclave and dissolves into the wine
  7. Brief period of aging on the lees in autoclave (generally, just a few months)
  8. Isobaric stabilization and filtration, to remove the lees
  9. Isobaric bottling and closure

The production process of a sweet Asti Spumante is basically the same as that described above, except that Asti Spumante undergoes one single fermentation phase, directly in autoclave, where yeast activity is inhibited by dropping the autoclave temperature when the wine has reached the desired low alcohol by volume and high residual sugar levels.

That’s all for now. On the next post, we will chat about some of what we believe to be among the best Classic Method spumante wines made in Italy that are available on the market, especially for their price/quality ratios.

Cheers!

Psychobubbles Part I: An Overview of Méthode Champenoise (or Classic Method) Spumante

Cheers!

This post was originally published in Flora’s Table in anticipation of the 2012 end of the year festivities, and with those of the tradition that is common to many to pop some kind of bubbly wine to celebrate, be it a Champagne, a Crémant, an American sparkling wine, a Cava or… an Italian spumante.

But leaving veteran connoisseurs of Italian wine aside, how many have it clear on their minds what the offering of Italian spumante really is? How many know what a Franciacorta is and how it differs from Prosecco? And how about Trento? Or Oltrepo Pavese Metodo Classico? And Alta Langa? Or even Asti Spumante? If by now your head is slightly spinning it is neither you nor the wine, but it is most likely due to the fact that, in my opinion, not much has been done to explain to consumers in the first place that there is such thing as quality Italian sparkling wine and in the second place that no, it is not Champagne nor is it just Prosecco. It is so much more.

So, I will do my best to shed some light on the quite mysterious topic of Italian spumante. Since there is much to say, I will try not to bore everyone to death and therefore will break this discussion into four separate posts: today’s will focus on the basics: what is spumante and what is spumante’s traditional production process: the so-called “Classic Method”; the second post will focus on the main alternative process to produce spumante, the so-called “Italian Method”; the third post will focus on a selection of the best (in my view, of course!) Classic Method spumante; and the fourth and last post (phew…) will focus on a selection of the best Italian Method spumante (again, in my opinion). So, if you are interested and want to know more, stay tuned.

Let’s start from the very basics:

1. “Spumante” (pronounced “spoomantay”) is an Italian word which translates into sparkling wine in general.

2. Commercially, a sparkling wine may be produced either (i) through the artificial addition of carbon dioxide to a still wine (so-called “artificial process”) – this is the cheapest and least prestigious (to use a euphemism) sparkling wine production process, which we will not consider for the purpose of this article or (ii) through a second, natural fermentation of the base wine (or the fermentation of a must, as is the case for Asti Spumante) – this is known as the “natural process” and is performed by following either one of two main production methods: the Méthode Champenoise (or Classic Method) or the Méthode Charmat or Martinotti (also known as the Italian Method).

3. One cannot meaningfully speak about sparkling wines without having at least some extremely basic information about Champagne, the king of wines and the wine of kings. In this case, I will take the liberty to quote myself (see, our Wine Glossary): it is the epitome of sparkling wine, it has been around since the XVII century, when it started being served at the crowning ceremonies of the Kings of France in Reims, therefore gaining worldwide popularity and repute. It is the wine for which the Méthode Champenoise refermentation process was invented. This magical name, which is the same as the homonymous AOC appellation created in 1927 (although an area had already been defined in 1908 as “Région de la Champagne délimitée viticole”), is reserved to sparkling wine that is made exclusively from all or some of the following grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grown in the Champagne region of France.

Until well into the very end of the XIX century, the Classic Method was the only known process to produce a sparkling wine. In Italy, the first sparkling wine ever produced, which therefore coincides with the date of birth of spumante, was a Classic Method wine made in Asti (Piemonte) by famous Italian winemakers Gancia (pronounced “Gancha”) in 1865.

The development of the most commonly utilized alternative process to make a sparkling wine, the so-called Martinotti Method or Charmat Method or even Italian Method, took place at the end of the XIX century, precisely in 1895 when Federico Martinotti, who was in charge of the Royal Enological Station in Asti, invented a steel pressurized and refrigerated vessel known as “autoclave” that is used to make Italian Method spumante wines. This alternative process is also known as “Charmat Method” because a French engineer by the name of Eugéne Charmat adapted the design of Martinotti’s autoclave to suit industrial production of sparkling wine and rolled out the product in 1907. Considering the contributions made by both such gentlemen to devising such alternative production process, I think the proper way to identify it would be “Charmat-Martinotti Method.”

Very broadly and generally speaking, sparkling wines made according to the Classic Method are more expensive (due to the greater complexity and the longer duration of this production process – see below), convey more complex aromas and are more structured in the mouth compared to those sparkling wines that are made according to the Italian Method. In Italy, about 90% of the annual production of sparkling wine is made according to the Italian Method while only 10% is made according to the Classic Method.

To wrap up this post, we will now briefly go through the main steps to produce a Classic method spumante (which are essentially the same that are used to make Champagne).  One interesting difference between Champagne and Italian Classic Method wines is the grapes: if we said that Champagne can only be made from all or some of the following grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (the first being a white-berried grape variety, while the second a the third being black-berried grape varieties), the use of Pinot Meunier in the production of Italian Classic Method spumante is extremely rare and such grape variety is often replaced with Pinot Blanc (a white-berried grape). Certain Italian producers have also been experimenting making Classic Method spumante out of “unconventional” grape varieties, such as Cortese, Glera (aka Prosecco) and lately Carricante (a white-berried grape variety indigenous to Sicily), as you may recall if you read our recent post regarding Sicilian winemakers Planeta. We will talk about this more in our third post of this series.

Main Steps in the Classic Method Production Process:

  1. Soft pressing of the base wine grapes (separately for each grape variety)
  2. Treatments of the must (e.g., clarification and application of sulfur dioxide)
  3. Separate fermentation of each of the base wines by the addition of selected yeast (so-called “pied de cuve”)
  4. If appropriate, malolactic fermentation of the base wines (whereby lactic acid bacteria  convert the tart malic acid that is present in grape juice into sweeter lactic acid and carbon dioxide, thus making the wine “rounder”)
  5. Proprietary blending process of the varietal base wines to produce the so-called “cuvée” (pronounced “koovay“), that is the still wine resulting from the blend of the base wines
  6. Bottling of the cuvée, addition of the liqueur de tirage (a mix of wine, sugar and selected yeast that is used to start the in-bottle refermentation process typical of the Classic Method) and sealing of the bottle by using a crown cap known as “bouchon de tirage” to which a so-called “bidule” (see below) is attached
  7. In-bottle refermentation of the cuvée (so-called “prise de mousse”) that makes the wine bubbly because the carbon dioxide created by the yeast as a byproduct of alcoholic fermentation remains trapped inside the bottle and dissolves in the wine (roughly, every 4 gr of sugar present in the liqueur de tirage create 1 atm of additional pressure: generally, the liqueur de tirage contains 24 gr/lt of sugar, which at the end of the refermentation phase results in a 6 atm sparkling wine – however, in Crémant or Satén wines the liqueur de tirage contains less sugar thus producing a gentler pressure)
  8. Sur lie” (pronounced “soor lee”) aging phase: it is the period of time (which, depending on the applicable regulations of the producing country and relevant appellation, may range from 12 months to several years) that a Classic Method sparkling wine spends aging in the bottle on its lees (i.e., dead yeast cells) after the refermentation phase is completed
  9. Remuage: at the end of the aging phase on the lees, the bottles are placed in a pupitre (a wine rack that holds the bottles bottoms up at an angle) and are manually or mechanically rotated at regular time intervals along their axis so as to cause the lees to precipitate down the bottleneck and deposit into the bidule, that is a small receptacle attached to the inside of the crown cap of the bottle
  10. Dégorgement (or disgorgement): it is the removal process of the lees sediment after the remuage step is completed. Dégorgement was once performed manually by removing the crown cap so that the top portion of the wine (which, as a result of the remuage contains the lees sediment) would be ejected from the bottle. Nowadays it is generally a mechanical process that entails, after the remuage phase is completed, partially submerging the neck of the bottle (which is kept upside down) in an ice-cold solution (-25 C/-13 F) which freezes the portion of wine next to the crown cap and therefore also the lees sediment contained in the bidule so that the crown cap and the iced bidule containing the sediment can be easily removed
  11. Dosage: it is the phase following the dégorgement, when the liqueur d’expédition (a proprietary mix of wine and sugar) is generally added to finish off the sparkling wine restoring the desired amount of residual sugar – winemakers may decide, however, not to add any liqueur d’expédition (and therefore no additional sugar) to certain of their sparkling wines, which are known as “Dosage Zéro” or “Pas Dosé” and which as a result have extremely low residual sugar levels (around 0.5 gr/lt)
  12. Final sealing of the bottle with the typical “mushroom-shaped” cork and wire cage closure.

That’s all for now: we will continue our discussion in the next post, which will focus on the Charmat-Martinotti Method.