Over the past year I have been noticing a trend in the type of Champagne that I have been enjoying. I find myself enjoying Champagnes that are bone dry. I believe that it is not just me, but that many wine lovers are shifting towards a more drier, low or no dosage Champagnes. Extra Brut or Brut Nature Champagnes(see chart below) are not just a fashionable trend, but have very terroir driven reasons why we are seeing this shift.
There are several theories on the recent direction towards zero dosage wines and I will elaborate my views later in the article. Lets first discuss what factor sugar plays in making Champagne. In the final steps leading up to corking the wine, the winemaker decides what level of sugar he wants to incorporate into the finishing touches. This final step of adding sugar to the wine is called dosage. Dosage(a french term) is simply a reserve wine with pure cane sugar, that is added right before corking and shipping. Adding dosage to a wine can help balance the acidity of the Champagne. Depending on the level of dosage, the Champagne is categorized, helping the consumer understand the dryness of the wine, i.e. Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec etc. The most driest of champagnes are Brut Nature(no dosage) and the sweetest being Doux(refer to chart below). Even though there is a trend towards no dosage Champagnes, the majority of Champagnes consumed and produced today are Brut Champagnes.
We are seeing the trend towards drier Champagnes because we are drinking more Champagne overall. Champagne is no longer just about special occasions(though Champagne still remains an elegant and luxurious wine for any celebration), it has become an overall part of many Champagne lovers wine drinking repertoire. Champagne can be had as an aperitif, with any meal, whether lunch or dinner and many even have been known to have a glass of Champagne for breakfast and it pairs wonderfully with desserts. Thus the more Champagne we drink the more sophisticated our palates become. Like Champagne, when one first starts drinking wine, the tendency is to drink more sweeter styles like Rieslings, Pinot Grigios or Pinot Noirs, as these are lighter, sweeter, fruitier and more delicate wines. Then as one’s palate gradually expands, there is new-found appreciation for drier wines like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux Blends. The same evolution can be held true for Champagne. We initially gravitate towards Brut or Extra Dry Champagnes, but as we explore and our palates become more cultivated, there will be a desire to experiment with lower or no dosage wines. As Americans drink more Champagne there will be a greater demand for Extra Brut and Brut Nature wines.
Another reason for the trend towards no dosage wines has to do with terroir and wine making. Increasingly many Champagne houses are adding Brut Nature or Brut Zero wines to their offerings. Winemakers feel that in order to really understand the true depth, uniqueness and authenticity of a wine, a non dosage Champagne is preferred. A zero dosage Champagne is a pure expression of the wine’s terroir. Improvements in viticultural practices and climate changes have allowed vignerons to create zero dosage wines, as growers are increasingly getting riper grapes with each harvest. Bone dry Champagnes maybe the trend of the future if mother nature has her say in the matter. The absence of the dosage allows the Champagne lover to truly appreciate the fruits, the aromas, and the minerality of the wine in its truest and purest form. Zero dosage Champagnes can be fresh, crisp and tart and the wine’s complexity can be greater without the added sugar.
In addition to climate change, American are drinking more grower Champagnes or “Farmer Fizz”. Grower Champagnes are wines that are produced by the grape growers and their families(as compared to the big Champagne houses). Up until 2000 most Champagne imported into the United States were only big brand Champagne houses like Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Roederer etc.. The big Champagne houses do not grow their own grapes, they simply buy grapes from the smaller grower producers and then blend grapes to produce their own house blends. In recent years, there has been a cult like movement in the United States to import more grower Champagne(farmer fizz), as these wines are available at lower price points and have more of a boutique appeal to the drinkers. Many of the grape growers make zero or low dosage Champagnes. These smaller producers are big fans of no dosage wines. They truly want to represent the purity of their terroir in their Champagnes. So as Americans develop more of a fondness for these artisanal Champagnes, we will continue to see a bigger trend for Brut Nature wines.
Now a higher dosage wine is not necessarily bad wine, in fact some of these wines can be quite beautifully expressive. Brut wines are easy to drink and can be of top quality, but as with any wine, it is all about the individual palate. So as we continue our Champagnuary celebrations try experimenting with different styles of Champagne and different dosages to help you zone in on your palate and your preferences. Some of the original pioneers in making no dosage wines are Tarlant, Ayala and Paul Goerg. All three growers make wonderful zero dosage wines. In addition, some other producers that make excellent Brut Nature Champagne are, Louis Roederer et Philip Starke, Drappier, Jérôme Prévost, and Agrapart Grand Cru.
Brut Nature < Extra Brut < Brut < Extra Dry < Sec < Demi-Sec < Doux
Brut Nature – No sugar added or under 3 grams per liter of residual sugar
Extra Brut – Between 0 and 6 grams per liter of residual sugar
Brut – Less than 12 grams per liter of residual sugar
Extra Dry – Between 12-17 grams per liter of residual sugar
Sec – Between 17-32 grams per liter of residual sugar
Demi-sec – Between 32-50 grams per liter of residual sugar
Doux – More than 50 grams per liter of residual sugar