Bonjour, Mesdames et Messieurs.
We have already gained insights of Champagne’s production, haven’t we?
Let’s move on the next chapter, the sweetness level of Champagne.
To discuss the topic, let’s take a quick review of the stage of Dosage, or “liqueur d’expédition”. The stage determines the final sweetness level by a dosage liqueur which the more grams of added sugar results in a sweeter style of Champagne. Here is the EU official classification of sweetness levels for Champagne, from the driest to sweetest.
Brut nature, pas dosé & dosage zéro Less than 3 g/L
Extra brut 0 – 6 g/L
Brut Less than 12 g/L
Extra dry 12 – 17 g/L
Sec 17 – 32 g/L
Demi-sec 32 – 50 g/L
Doux More than 50 g/L
History of Champagne’s sweetness
Have you ever thought about a luscious bottle of Champagne? Before the first “Brut” Champagne, Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, was introduced to its British clients who preferred a drier style of Champagne in 1846, a typical Champagne was rather sweet. For example, the sweetest Champagne was classified as “Goût russe” or “Russian taste”, the Russian was an uppermost customer of Champagne in 1800s, and Louis Roederer exclusively created “Cristal” as a supreme reserve for Russian Tsar Alexander II who demanded for a unique cuvée treasured in a distinctive flat-bottomed and pure crystal bottle in 1876, which has been one of the most prestige Champagne until now. A “Goût russe” style of Champagne contains grams of sugar approximately six times greater than a Doux Champagne today, about 300 grams of sugar per litre.
From sweet to dry
From nineteen century to the present, the sweetness level of Champagne has been thoroughly changed. It has witnessed a strong style shift from sweet to dry. A “Brut” style is prevalent among Champagne production, around 90% of total Champagne. Perhaps because of three reasons: an expression of quality, a change of consumer preference and a fact of climate change.
An expression of quality
Maison Perrier-Jouët believes that high-quality grapes do not require much added sugar as an effective make-up. In other words, Champagne made from exceptional grapes is splendid with vivid acidity, greater flavour concentration and appealing minerality. Therefore, a drier style of Champagne might be associated with an expression of quality.
A Change of consumer preference
In nineteen century, luscious wines were popular and acknowledged to be a common style by wine drinkers, whilst a bone-dry style wine is dominated total wine production nowadays. Consumers are seeking a dry style of wine which is very likely to be influenced by a healthy diet and modern refrigeration technology.
They may prefer a crispy and mouth-watering wine instead a cloying and mouth-coating wine. Without refrigeration technology, it is impossible to achieve dry wine production.
A fact of climate change
As Climate has changed, there is a common issue arisen that cool climate regions’ wine has been gradually deprived of their elegance and quintessential acidity structure because of global warming. It is a double-edged-sword effect on Champagne. On the one hand, grape growers in the region may receive positively riper grapes that are able to make phenomenal Champagne with less dosage or zero dosage year over year, which is unlikely to be seen before last several decades. However, climate change has caused potentially chaotic growing seasons.
For instance, in 2017, It had started with a typical cold winter, accompanied by an unexpectedly warm early spring that resulted in a detrimental early bud burst. Then, the season was experienced by destructive spring frosts that led to a significant crop reduction, the worst case was in Côte des Bars, about 70% of predicted crops diminished.
Current trend of Champagne
Brut Champagne has been the mainstream production whilst extra brut or zero dosage Champagne is getting its popularity. Several visionary adventurous producers such as Louis Roederer, Pol Roger or Tarlant who have launched non-added sugar Champagne. Such kind of product is a milestone of Champagne history. They have unveiled an unparalleled wine as the expression of its unique terroir and extraordinary grape.
At the end of this chapter, let’s have a glass of Champagne with your breakfast, delicacy or celebration. Cheers!
The Oxford Companion to Wine 4th Edition, Robinson. J and Harding. J.