The dosage is sugar, diluted with wine at the request of the winemaker. Winemakers themselves call Zéro Dosage champagne without cosmetics. No pretense. Without a doubt, sugar gives the drink more power, as can be seen in the atypical Exquise by Jacques Selosse, which with its 25 grams per liter resembles an “asphalt paver”, yet it does not feel sweet and maintains balance. The same cannot be said about the sugary Veuve Clicquot Demi Sec, where the sugar is very strong and partially overlaps the aromas.
Although in the case of Brut Nature, no sugar is added to the champagne after the sediment is removed, the wine still contains natural sugar that has not been fermented into alcohol by fermentation. Brut Nature can contain up to 3 grams of natural sugar from berries. For Brut Zéro, the volume of champagne lost after disgorgement is compensated by the addition of sugar-free wine.
Dose is something like a final chord. It’s like a sauce for a dish that is added at the time of serving. The dosage, or source of sweetness, may vary, although most winemakers use cane sugar. If we try Coteaux Champenois Blanc, a bitter white wine from Champagne, we will understand why at least a small amount of sugar is almost always added to champagne. Thus, producers mask the high acidity and form the perfect balance.
Sometimes Zéro Dosage can seem too harsh and acidic, as in the production of such wines, the amount of added sugar that harmonizes the drink is very small. The iconic champagne house Ulysse Collin adds just 2.4 grams per liter, but that’s enough to significantly change perceptions and energize aromas without overwhelming the terroir, as noted by many wine bloggers. Here it is also necessary to take into account the holding time on the lees. The longer it is, the more complexity the wine acquires. Although some Brut Nature samples began to appear on the wine shelves, which were aged on the lees for no more than a year. While tasting such wines, everyone has the opportunity to analyze whether the winemaker has managed to give such a young wine a rich taste and complexity without long aging and dosage. I have tried some of the Brut Nature samples, which in this combination were expressionless and with a short aftertaste.
For Brut Nature champagne you need a high quality base wine, as there is no sugar to correct the balance. I have noticed that when the champagne is heated in the glass, dry Brut Nature outperforms the dosed champagne as it retains a fresher flavor due to its high acidity. Most houses offer the same champagne in two versions – Brut Nature and Extra Brut, so that the consumer can appreciate which style he likes best: with or without dose.
This year I was lucky enough to participate in the dosage tasting together with the founder of the peasant winemaking movement and one of the best winemakers in France, Anselm Selosse, head of the Domaine Jacques Selosse house. Together we tasted seven of his wines, containing from 4 to 5 different doses of sugar, evaluating how significantly the wines differ with a seemingly insignificant change in the sugar content in champagne: one after another we tried samples with 0.7, 1.3, 2 and some with 2.6 grams of sugar per liter, which is a very small amount. What were the main findings?
Champagne, which is made from grapes grown on the southern slopes, has a significant advantage, because the berries get more sun and ripen better, so the wine turns out to be richer and does not need such a large amount of added sugar after aging.
The Selosse champagnes we tasted were made from the 2012 vintage, a hot year with a high ripeness. So almost all Selosse wines were great, even with zero sugar, with the exception of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, a champagne from the eastern slope of the Sous le Mont – adding sugar not only changed it, but greatly improved it. A warm year is one of the main conditions for a good balance of Brut Nature. It is no coincidence that the most respectable of the large champagne houses – Louis Roederer – produced Brut Nature only in the hottest years: 2006 and 2009, achieving a better balance in ready-made berries, including from the town of Cumières, which is characterized by poor climatic conditions even on southern slopes. I was not able to discuss this issue with Roederer winemaker Jean-Baptiste Lecion, but I would not be surprised if the next Brut Nature of this house comes from the 2012 harvest.
If collectors choose champagne from the great years, such as the 2008 vintage, then in the case of non-dosé, the slightly overshadowed 2009 may be more appropriate. I noted this when I tasted the magnificent Jacquesson Dizy Terres Rouges Rosé de Saignée of both vintages above. Hot 2008 with dosage and no less harmonious 2009 without. I would like to add that I have always liked Rosé de Saignée more in the Zéro Dosage version with its intense color, bouquet of red berries and even soft tannins. It is no coincidence that Rosé de Saignée is called the red burgundy with bubbles.
The importance of old vines is enormous for any champagne, and this is especially felt in the discreet Pas Dosé. One of the best examples of this style is the L’Apotre champagne from the iconic winemaker David Leklapar. Older vines are characterized by low yields, but wines are obtained with a more concentrated aroma and a deeper taste. It is the vintage of warm 2009 that is ideal for such non-dosé champagne.
Harvesting late is another way to balance low-dose champagne. During my last visit to Champagne, Emmanuel Brochet, a popular winemaker among the sommelier, spoke about this. We appreciated how his 2012 Meunier shows good fruitiness and excellent concentration already at the time of release. Accordingly, this 2012 champagne will be in the Brut Nature variant, as this vintage is characterized by powerful aroma and luxury of taste. Other vintages added dosage to Meunier.
Malolactic fermentation, or “little” as the winemakers themselves call it, is another way to make wine not only richer and richer, but also more delicate and drinkable. For Brut Zéro, this works very well.
How does Brut Nature manifest itself with age?
Over the past few decades, due to climate change and global warming, Zéro Dosage has become increasingly popular. There is no specific information about experimenting with really old Brut Nature vintages. While visiting the Côte des Blancs with Didier Gimonet of Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, I learned that although the 2006, 2009 and 2012 vintages have a natural balance, dosed wine ages better as sugar is a natural preservative. Gimone prefers at least 7 grams per liter for long-term storage. He builds on his experience with champagne without a dose from his home.
Over the past decade, Brut Nature has become a fashion trend. The wine public loves the idea of something very dry and unusual, even if the drink is not overly balanced and difficult to drink. The production of this type of wine is a major challenge for those proponents of biological farming, who not only do not add sugar, but also avoid sulfites after disgorgement. Unfortunately, I have come across wines that, in this case, oxidized too early, because sugar and sulfites are inherently preservatives that allow champagne to live much longer.
Winemakers on their labels very often designate champagne as Brut, although in terms of the amount of added sugar it corresponds to Extra Brut, or instead of Brut Nature indicate Extra Brut, since they believe that this will be clearer to the consumer and the champagne will not seem too dry and harsh. There is nothing more iconic in the world than Brut Nature, more and more farms are producing Zéro Dosage champagne. In response to consumer demand, even a mass-market brand like Pommery has launched its elite Cuvée Louise champagne in a Brut Nature version. But still, the balance is at the heart of everything: 0 grams, 3 grams or 9 grams per liter. If sweetness is not felt in the taste, this inscription cannot serve as a selection criterion.