Let’s face it…
The labels on Italian wine bottles can get a little confusing. There is so much terminology to wrap your head around that it’s often difficult to figure out exactly what you’re buying.
Okay, so maybe we’re exaggerating a little bit here. But the fact remains that a wine label can seem almost incomprehensible to somebody who doesn’t already understand all of the phrases and terminology used.
Say “DOC” to the average person and they won’t know what it means.
Similarly, if you use the word “Brut”, you’re likely going to get some looks of confusion. And if you tell somebody that your wine was made using the classic method, they’re probably just going to assume that means the wine was made in the same way that every other wine is made, and that there’s some weird non-classic method floating around out there.
As we said, it can all get a little confusing.
That’s why we’re going to demystify some of the terms that you might find that people (and labels) use when talking about wine. And we’re going to do that by focusing on two questions:
- What is the classic method?
- What does Brut mean?
What is the Classic Method?
The word “classic” suggests that something is both old and traditional. If you hear it in relation to wine, you may assume that it means that a producer uses an older method to create their wine.
And you would be right.
However, you may not realise that the phrase “classic method” doesn’t refer to all types of wine. Instead, it’s a phrase used to describe the method used to make a very specific type of wine – Champagne.
The classic method differs from most other forms of winemaking in a number of key ways.
First, harvesting tends to occur a little earlier than it normally would. This is to ensure that sugar levels are kept low while acidity remains fairly high. The juice will typically be pressed off very quickly too, again ensuring the wine has the distinct characteristics that we know Champagne has.
Second, the fermentation process has several key differences that allow for the creation of a sparkling wine.
Fermentation starts in the normal way, with the natural sugars in the grapes being converted into alcohol. This process results in the creation of carbon dioxide, which is allowed to escape at this early stage. The result is a “base” wine that’s very acidic. It’s at this point where a Champagne producer may introduce other grapes to create a blend, though this is done in accordance with very strict guidelines.
The key difference with the classic method lies in the use of a secondary fermentation process.
Instead of moving the wine into the ageing step of the process, somebody using the classic method will place their blended wine in bottles with a touch of yeast and some extra sugar. The bottle is sealed with a temporary plug and stored horizontally in a wine cellar. The wine then undergoes a second fermentation. Only this time, the temporary plug prevents the carbon dioxide the process creates from being released. Those gases stay in the wine, resulting in the creation of the bubbles that Champagne is so famous for.
There are other aspects of the classic method that are unique, such as the requirement to age on lees and the need for ageing to last for at least 15 months before it can be sellable. However, it’s this secondary fermentation process that makes the classic method of creating wine stand out from the normal method.
Is the Classic Method Confined to Champagne?
Not at all.
The classic method is so called because it was the first method created that resulted in sparkling wine. It’s also a method that many Italian winemakers Have adopted when creating their own wines.
However, it is not the only method for creating sparkling wines.
Several others exist, with this one simply being the first.
So, What Does Brut Stand For?
In a word, Brut stands for “dry”. But we’re not talking about a standard wine dryness here. Any wine that carries the Brut label is amongst the driest examples of its kind.
There are even some variations on the term. For example, you may see a wine denoted as “extra brut” or “brut natural”. This tells you that the wine is so dry that the producer didn’t even add a single bit of sugar during the fermentation process.
So, this brings us to another question.
Is Brut a good thing?
It generally depends on the type of wine you’re looking for. Many people enjoy dry sparkling wines because they offer interesting acidity and a unique taste. However, those looking for a little more sweetness in their wines may find that a Brut wine isn’t to their tastes. If that sounds like you, it’s probably a good idea to avoid any wine that carries the Brut label.
Does a Combination of Classic and Brut Lead to the Best Sparkling Wine?
Many will say it does simply because some of the most famous Champagnes carry the Brut label. That fact alone will lead many to the conclusion that following the classic method to create an extremely dry wine is the best way to go for those who love some bubbles.
But that isn’t always the case.
Take Prosecco as an example.
This sparkling Italian wine has become one of the most popular in the world, even outselling Champagne. However, it’s also made using a different production method, meaning that the classic method doesn’t automatically guarantee that a sparkling wine is better than any other.
Ultimately, it all comes down to your personal tastes.
At the very least, you now know what Brut means when you see the term on a wine label and what to expect when drinking a wine made using the classic method. And of course, you can find plenty of examples of Brut wines (and wines made using the classic method) in our online store.
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