Monday, May 31, 2010

Debate a Bubble - Low Dosage - A New Trend In Champagne

Debate a Bubble - Low Dosage - A New Trend In Champagne

Link to Debate a Bubble - Champagne News and Reviews

Low Dosage - A New Trend In Champagne

Posted: 31 May 2010 12:59 AM PDT

Unless you've been living on Mars for the past couple of years, it won't come as a surprise to know that world finances have been in a bit of a mess. We've been living in what the old Chinese proverb euphemistically calls 'exciting times'.

Absolument Brut But what one person sees as a problem is an opportunity for another and this is very much true in Champagne.

After experiencing over 30 years of uninterrupted growth, sales of champagne decreased in 2008 compared to the previous year. The same happened in 2009, but when you look at the figures more closely you find something interesting.

True, the sales of the well-known international brands have slumped and they represent a very large part of the entire market, but on the other hand, sales by the many hundreds of small champagnes – sometimes called grower champagnes - have increased. Why is this?

Well, for one thing the smaller brands are usually less expensive than the famous ones and so, if you have a budget to stick to – and  who doesn't ? - these less expensive brands have tempted more customers.

 Some people would say that they're cheaper because they are not such good quality. This may be true in a few instances, but there are more and more small and medium-sized champagne makers who are producing quality that is every bit as good as the brands you are more familiar with.

What this means is that the smaller growers offer you great quality and more approachable prices and when you put these together you get terrific value for money.

There's another thing however that makes the smaller champagne makers attractive and that's the fact that the best of them are being very innovative in what they do and nowhere is this more in evidence than in the move towards champagne to which very little extra sugar has been added.

These are called low dosage champagnes, dosage being the French word for the process of adding the extra sugar.

Let me explain....

By the time champagne has finished the fermentation process, it is bone dry; all the sugar that was in it has been used up to produce alcohol.

At this stage champagne is so dry that it was assumed that few people would actually enjoy it – at least that is the traditional point of view – so a little sugar was added to make it more appealing to the average person's palate. 

Somewhere around 95 % of all champagne that is made falls into the category of sweetness called Brut – not too dry and not too sweet. In technical terms Brut has between 6 and 14 grams of sugar added per litre of champagne

Now, one of the claims to fame made by all the big brands is that their champagnes are of a consistent taste and quality year in, year out. This can be good news for the consumers, but the downside is that it's very hard for the big brands to change their style of champagne without confusing, and perhaps losing, their loyal customers and that includes making any changes to the amount of sugar added.

The smaller makers don't have such a huge following so they are free to experiment and more and more of them are making champagne with little or no added sugar.

Dosage chart You can recognise these champagnes from the words Zero Dosage, Brut Nature, or Extra Brut. that you'll find on the label.

 These all have less than 6 grams of added sugar per litre and, judging from the sales figures, lots of people enjoy what they are tasting.

If you're already saying to yourself "Oh, that would be too dry for me" or "That's not what I like at all", keep an open mind for just a while.

The most skilful of the smaller champagne makers produce champagnes that don't come across as too dry at all, despite having little, or no, added sugar in them.

These people have good business brains as well as being good champagne makers and they know that they can't offer the public something that is just too dry to enjoy. In fact the best of them make well balanced champagnes with lots of flavour and a softness in the mouth that more than compensates for the lack of sugar. Sure, there's a crisp, clean taste to them, but nothing too extreme.

Perhaps the main  attraction of these low dosage champagnes is that they allow the makers to express much more clearly the local differences between one champagne and another, one grape and another and even between one plot of vineyard and another because these subtle nuances are not masked by too much sugar.

Getting to know these champagnes is like a guided tour round the entire Champagne region whereas the big brands offer you a reliable, but more standardised experience.

Rosé Zero There are so many of the great little champagnes  to choose from that it's almost unfair to mention just a few, but some worth trying are, Tarlant, Penet-Chardonnet, Francis Boulard, Agrapart, Pascal Doquet, Corbon and Arnaud Margaine, but these are just the tip of the iceberg.

The real proof of the pudding is to try some of them for yourself. I think you'll enjoy the experience.

Champagne Labels - Inside out by Louis de Sacy

Posted: 30 May 2010 06:12 AM PDT

The champagne industry has been around a long time. The oldest champagne house of them all is Ruinart, founded in 1729 and there are several other houses that have been in business for over two hundred years. 

Louis de Sacy exterior It's not surprising then that the world of champagne is steeped in traditional, so much so in fact that it's sometimes criticised for being too set in its ways and too slow to  innovate the way some other wine regions have.

 Still, this is not a criticism that can be levelled at Louis de Sacy which has come up with a new label design that turns a lot of pre-conceived notions on their head - or I should say, inside out.

Louis de Sacy is a medium sized champagne maker based in the Grand Cru village of Verzy, which is where I live.

It's not short of a bit of history itself and the family roots in Champagne go back to 1633, although they weren't champagne makers back then.

It's not a brand that's shy about putting itself forward either and it has painted a huge sign on the side of its office that can be seen from way across the vineyards. Loius de Sacy from across the vineyard October 2009 Some of the locals find this a bit vulgar but, I suspect that the people at Louis de Sacy aren't too bothered about that and just get on with it - they just do their own thing.

In fact that's exactly what they've done with a new rosé champagne called Cuvée Nue or Naked Cuvée.

I guess the people who objected to the big sign will raise their eyebrows even more about Cuvée Nue, but not because of the name so much as the label - you see there isn't one, at least not in the usual sense of the term.

Cuvée Nue Back Label

Take a look first at the back label.

Nothing unusual there really - the usual blurb, but not a great deal more.

The intriguing thing though is that when you turn the bottle round you see that what you usually expect to see on the front label is in fact printed on the inside of the back label so that's it's visible through the transparent bottle.

This is certainly a novel gimmick but I'm not convinced that it really works.

Reading the 'front' ( I suppose that's what you should call it although it's part of the back label), is not easy and not very clear.

Cuvée Nue


In fact a lot of the statutory text has been put on the collar, presumably so you can actually read it.  Cuvée Nue3

Whether you like this innovation or not, it sort of overshadows something else about this rosé that's potentially much more interesting.

The real reason for the name Cuvée Nue is that there is no dosage, that's to say no added sugar.

This is very unusual for a rosé which people usually drink for the rich red fruit flavours which often give the sensation of being slightly sweet, so an absolutely bone dry rosé is definitely an innovation.

The minimalist bottle and label design was intended to compliment the fact that the champagne is, if you like, naked, no added sugar leaving nothing but the champagne to speak for itself.

So what's the verdict on Cuvée Nue ?

I give it 10 out of 10 for innovation, but only 8 out of 10 for the design itself. For me it's just too difficult to read.

As for the champagne itself, again I found the bone dry rosé too astringent to sit happily on my tongue and I felt that it lacked a balancing softness in the mouth which I always look for.

If the idea of a brut zero rosé sounds tempting to you then I'd suggest Tarlant about which I'll be writing in a short while, so... watch this space.

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