Monday, February 27, 2012

Zero dosage Champagnes

Many champagne drinkers often puzzle over the "sweetness" ratings of champagnes, from Brut to Extra dry to Dry to Demi-sec, and how the increasing sweetness comes to be, with Brut being the driest of these four categories.

We need to go back to the champagne process where grapes are turned into wine, wines from certain parcels and certain grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunieur or Chardonnay) are blended (commonly from multiple vintages for Non-Vintage (NV) champagnes) to make the final blend or Cuvée. At this point, yeast, sugar and yeast nutrients are added to the wine, and the wine is put into it's final bottle for the carbonation process or champagne process (, called "la prise de mousse" in French. After the years of ageing, the remuage (riddling) and the disgorgement, the "dosage" is added to give us these sweetness gradations from Brut to Demi-Sec.

But what if we didn't add any sugar? Boy that would be a lip smacker! All that acidity and no sugar to balance it. Many think that without sugar, champagne would be undrinkable. Do you?  Think again.

If the grapes used are of an excellent quality, and they are of sufficient ripeness, the wine, and hence the champagne, could stand on its own. And many of the small producers, their champagnes more and more referred to as grower champagnes (I prefer Farmer Fizz myself) are doing just that. To add depth to their range of offerings, they are taking some of their best grapes and when the champagne is finished, add NO SUGAR when topping off the bottles with wine following the disgorgement, and so we have a ZERO DOSAGE champagne. There is always a small residual amount of sugar present, as the yeast cannot consume it all, especially when the sugars drop below 0.5grams/liter, but it is the fruit that shows through.

Wonderful champagnes like this are also known as "Brut Nature" or "Ultra Brut" but we are speakin' the same language. This is where the true quality of the terroir, grapes, and the talent of the winemaker comes through with just beautiful wines. I became so enamoured with these champagnes, that I added two to my portfolio in 2011; Brut Nature from Thierry Fluteau and Extra Brut from Michel Arnould et Fils. Ask for them at your local Chicago retailer.