Let's not sugar coat it!
So, you’ve purchased a bottle of champers, yippee; but don’t feel like a brute if you have no idea what ‘dosage’ means. In simple terms, dosage, pronounced ‘do-zaj’, is a form of sweetness (sugar, liquor, reserve wines) added to a Champagne to balance it out.
Now let’s not confuse dosage with disgorgement. The disgorgement is the removal of the sediment, dead yeast cells, after riddling in the cellars. As you can imagine, opening up a bottle under immense pressure is bound to lose some of the bubbles inside, therefore, dosage is added to replace this. Adding the dosage is the last step in the elaborative Champagne making process what is known as a ‘liqueur d’expédition’; the wine maker’s most famous secret!
The dosage added can make a big difference to the final Champagne. The less dosage the drier, whereas the more added creates a sweeter wine.
Each to their own tastes.
Historically, Champagne contained much more dosage than what we see today, as it was used as a corrective method to cover up the imperfections in the wine. It is interesting to understand how different countries used to appreciate this tantalising wine. The Russian’s started the love affair with champagne in the 1730’s and remained persistent lovers within the Champagne market but only drinking extra sweet wines. Whilst the American’s favoured a dryer style and the English traditionally preferred older wines. Subsequent to this, it was common practice for wine makers to adjust their dosage to suit each national market; goût américain (“American taste”), goût russe (“Russian taste”) and goût anglais (“English taste”). Today goût anglais is a term still used by some to refer to aged vintage champagne!
For the last two centuries, there has been a deterioration for heavily dosaged Champagnes. Traditionally dosage is added as a method to balance out the flavours in the wine. The Champenois were keen to perfect the imperfections from a particular harvest and eliminate the acidity from less desirable grapes. More recently, champagne lovers are wanting to experience the natural terroir expressions without the added extra dosage, but also the harvesting techniques are changing dramatically which means this is possible.
Edging its way slowly and surely into the spotlight is the feature of Brut Nature or Zero Dosage; meaning nothing added. This allows a Champagne to be stripped back to allow its true flavours to thrive without being buried under a smooth coat of sugar. This is where the terroir, riper grapes and the vineyards biodynamics can flourish and be fully cherished by wine lovers! With smaller estates having less pressure to produce higher yields they can take more attention to each individual plot and the harvest techniques. Allowing extra time for the ripening of grapes and a focus on sustainable viticulture can create still wines that can stand alone. With these purer juices a higher dosage is not required to ‘balance’, ‘correct’ or in some cases make them more ‘drinkable’. A step change that’s has come to the fore over the last two decades.
Zero to hero.
One particular unique expression of this method is Champagne Joseph Desruets with the creation of Cuvée Nature. This producer explored making a champagne that is a replica of their entry level, however with 0g of sugar per litre. The blending of the high-quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes truly emphasises the exceptional terroir of Hautvillers; otherwise known as typicity.
Over in the heart of the Côte de Blancs in Cramant, Champagne Phillipe Glavier with the creation of La Grâce d'Alphaël Brut Nature have drawn out all the beautiful features of the sub-region’s terroir. A late harvest and vinified in small stainless-steel tanks allow the parcels to truly present themselves. This creates a young and fresh expression of the sub-region.
However, it is not just entry level Champagnes being enlightened to this pure Champagne experience. Champagne Salmon created a prestige vintage wine, Special Club 2013 Zero Dosage. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from the region of Chaumuzy is the perfect example of their terroir. The Special Club is the first association of winemakers in Champagne to advocate an approach to viticulture based on the utmost standards of quality.
Ultimately, a spoonful of sugar doesn’t always make the Champagne go down. It truly is an experience to compare Brut to Zero Dosage Champagnes to get a true reflection of the producer’s genuine treasure; their terroir!