Some thoughts on Brut/Extra Brut

Recently whilst visiting a champagne producer, he consistently defined champagne as either being an aperitif champagne or a gastronomy champagne. To understand what he meant, one has to understand the transition champagne is undergoing.

 

Firstly: Demand in France is on the downside, restaurants want more champagnes with less dosage (extra brut, maximum 6g/l) which goes well with food, especially seafood, hence the term champagne gastronomique. Richer styles of champagne/champagne aperitif (Brut, maximum 12g/l) are in the french market less in demand. The market in the USA appears to be sceptical of this development.

 

Secondly: Climate change is playing a big role, grapes are being harvested riper and earlier, reducing the need to add as much sugar. Climate change also influences the wine making process.

Malolactic fermentation is becoming an important instrument. Some producers see it as an option to soften champagnes in vintages where the acidity is high.

 

Thirdly: More and more producers feel sugar masks the expression of terroir and are following the trend of producing Extra Brut/Zero Dosage champagne with the intention of allowing the terroir to dominate.

 

Blending is an integral part of champagne, finding the correct dosage is a craft. When Extra Brut/zero Dosage becomes an ideology used at all costs, the whole thing gets difficult.

Where Terroir is the driving force in Burgundy, terroir is still a nascent element in the Champagne.

 

Recently we drunk a zero dosage Pinot Noir that was for our taste too aggressive, yet from the same producer a zero dosage cuvée of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay came across as beautifuly balanced. A pinot noir from Bouzy or Ambonnay will be much richer than a pinot noir from Rilly Le Montagne; the latter even with a small dosage will never be as opulent as a zero dosage Pinot Noir from Bouzy.

 

From a personal point of view, Champagne is one of the most fascinating wine regions at the moment. Although Champagne is not cheap, in contrast to other wine regions it is possible to buy top wines for sensible prices.

 

The move towards more gastronomy orientated champagnes is definitely a good thing. The biggest challenge is finding the style/dosage which suit your palate. Considering the plethora of producers and variety of styles, there is no better time to start discovering champagne than the present.