You may be surprised to find out that most Champagne has sugar added to it during the production process.
But why is it added? How much is in there? And has it always been like this?
Read on to find out!
Just before a bottle of Champagne is ready to be sold, a process called “disgorging” is used to remove yeasts from the bottle. This leaves the bottle slightly less than full and so some base wine is added to top the bottle up. The winemaker will frequently also add some very pure cane sugar to the mixture. This process of adding of sugar and extra wine is called the “dosage”, pronounced “doh-sahge”. The cold climate in the Champagne region does not allow grapes to fully ripen in most years and this results in a very acidic wine. Sugar is added to make the wine more palatable. Champagnes range from Zero Dosage (with 0 grams per litre added) all the way to Doux ,with more than 50 grams per litre.
Historically, Champagne was heavily sweetened. In the 19th century it was common for it to contain as much as 200g of sugar per litre of wine. As a quick reference, a sugar cube weighs roughly 3g, so imagine 50 sugar cubes inside a standard 750ml bottle!
Today, Doux Champagne is very rare and modern tastes call for less sugar. A Champagne legend tells of a time when the British, having already developed a taste for the sparkling wine, would come back and order more but ask for there to be less and less sugar. The French found the acidity shocking and complained about the demands of the “British Brutes”. Little did they know that we’d all be drinking it like that before long! The British were actually responsible for quite a few things related to Champagne, but this will have to wait for another post, because it’s time to look at the categories:
Less than 3g/l: Zero Dosage / Brut Nature: With no sugar to sweeten the wine, this is the ultimate expression of the terroir and skill of the wine grower. This pairs well with very fatty seafood like oysters.
0 - 6g/l: Extra Brut: A little bit of sugar added makes the wine more palatable on its own vs the Zero Dosage but sharper than the Brut. We would still recommend this to be consumed with food, unless you really like sharp acidity. The high acidity cuts through fats very well, so it will pair well with rich cheeses or creamy sauces.
6 - 12g/l: Brut: The most commonly consumed category. Great by itself as an aperitif or pairs great with a whole range of food, depending on the composition of the grapes. YUM!
12 - 17g/l: Extra-Dry: Confusing, we know. Extra-dry is actually sweeter than Brut. We would suggest this with desserts.
17 - 32g/l: Sec / Dry: The name harks back to the time before the “British Brutes” when Sec was the most common variety, like Brut is today. This is very sweet and can pair well with pastries and cakes, but not chocolate.
32 - 50g/l: Demi-sec: Another dessert wine or for someone with a seriously sweet tooth.
More than 50g/l: Doux: Here we are really starting to compete with sodas. This is a rarity and if you ever try it you may see why!
So why does this all matter?!
Dosage sometimes gets a bad reputation.
Aside from the movement to consume less sugar in general, in some cases producers are accused of using a high dosage to hide mistakes made in the fields or a poor harvest. In these cases, unripe grapes are included with ripe ones to increase volumes and sugar is used to make the blend sweeter. While this may happen, we would like to focus on the actual use of dosage. Each Champagne is made with a specific purpose in mind and no level of dosage is “better” than another. For example, a Zero Dosage Champagne will pair better with oysters than a demi-sec, but the demi-sec will likely be more pleasant when paired with a sweet dessert. Neither wine is inherently better than the other simply because of dosage, each has an appropriate pairing.
We hope this guide has helped you understand dosage better. Let us know below if you have comments or questions!