Training Blog: Champagne please! Hold the sugar.
"A bit like walking a tightrope without a safety net" is how Graham Beck's Pieter Ferreira describes the risky business of making their Methode Cap Classique Brut Zero. There's no margin for error, or as Pieter puts it, no make-up to cover any flaws.
So, given the risk, why are producers and consumers alike shunning the sugar in favour of NO/LO dosage sparkling wines?
What is dosage?
Dosage is the final touch a winemaker adds to their wine before bottling; a blend of wine and sugar that is intended to balance out the often searing acidity in Champagne. Without it, the wine would feel tart and very dry. The sugar adds softness, enhancing the fruit, and the amount added will determine the final sweetness level of the wine. Most sparkling wine in the UK is 'Brut', meaning dry, but can in fact contain up to 12g/L of sugar.
The first no-dosage debuted as far back as 1889 when Laurent Perrier bucked the then-trend for demi-sec, but since then the style has remained on the fringe. Until now.
Increasingly, both producers and consumers are turning to NO/LO sparklers. Here are a few reasons why:
1. We're all going 'sugar-free'
Davina McCall did it a few years back, and since then it seems we all have. Cutting back on sugar is a key message in government health messages and is part of popular diet regimes like Whole30, so it's no surprise that NO/LO dosage wines are finding their followers amongst the health conscious.
2. Improved technique
Riper grapes simply don't need as much sugar to create balance. Whilst some have linked this to the effects of climate change, it's improved vineyard management that has been the key - resulting in not just riper, but also healthier grapes with nothing to hide. In the winery, techniques such as longer lees ageing have also played a part.
3. In search of authenticity
Whilst it may be risky, the upside of going 'au naturel' is that it shows a wine's purity, better reflecting the vintage and a sense of place. Natural winemakers, minimal interventionists and consumers alike are looking for authenticity in their wines and eschewing dosage is a logical part of that.
Want to go NO/LO?
Confusingly, these wines are known by a myriad of names, but simply put, 'Zero Dosage', 'Brut Nature' and 'Pas Dose' will all contain less than 3g of residual sugar per litre. 'Extra Brut' must be less than 6g, whereas - misleadingly - 'Extra Dry' is much sweeter!
Some great examples to try include Graham Beck Methode Cap Classique Brut Zero, R. Pouillon & Fils Terres Froides Extra Brut 1er Cru Champagne, and Llopart Original 1887 Brut Nature Single Vineyard.