“I like a nice dry Champagne” there are few things that give us wine merchants pangs of anxiety but hearing the term “Dry” does gives us a flutter fairly often. Seems simple and straight forward enough I know but trust me, dry and sweet are extremely subjective. Sure there are standard measures of sweetness but our individual perception of that sweetness can, and does vary vastly. Add to that the somewhat stigmatic, (and frankly, wrong) idea that wines with a little sweetness are somehow of lower quality or worse, for beginners, (and don’t even get me start on that lunk-headed “for girls” nonsense) and you run the risk of insulting someone by saying, “Oh that tends towards the sweeter side” which some folks deem as saying they have a baby’s palate or something. It’s really quite silly but as someone that has been on the other end of that, “How dare you?” face and have even seen people put back a wine they tasted and loved, because the shelf taker said “Sweet” I assure you, it’s a thing.
Now when it comes to Champagne there are many varying levels and degrees of dry and sweetness but there aren’t many super sweet styles, and especially in our selection but the range in levels of dryness, well that is all over the map and trying to pin down a specific customers threshold for perceptible sweetness or dryness takes some follow up questioning, (so yes, this is when we start asking all the, “so what do you normally drink?” kind of questions) and we aren’t being nosy or the least bit judgmental, we are trying to make sure we don’t send you on your way with the wrong wine, for you. This is where I gently nudge and remind you, implore you really, trust your local wine merchant, our every best interest is in finding you the things that please you, you see, because we need and want you to come back. One of those HUGE differences between critics and buyers/specialists on the retail level, we have to put our money where our mouths are and find wines for the people that keep us in business. Keep us doing this thing we love doing.
So not to get too technical, dosage is a sugar mixture that is added right before the final closure, (after the second fermentation in the bottle and the disgorgement of the spent yeast) and it is that dosage that determines the level of dryness in the finished wine. Back in the 1800s the Russians were big Champagne drinkers and wanted their wines extra sweet, the French, whom also consumed a fair amount of the festive frothy elixir preferred their Champagnes not quite as sweet as the Russians and the English wanted their Champagnes even drier still. Back then the driest style of Champagne was a Champagne Sec which clocked in at about 20 grams of sugar per liter, the English requested less sugar and the term Brut was born. Brut actually meaning raw, unrefined or brutal to the palates of the French producers that were making them at the time. Now, Brut Champagne accounts for approximately 90% of the market sales and the grams per liter sit between 7-12 grams of sugar. Just goes to show how much palates can change the market right?
The hottest thing in Champagne right now is ratcheting down the “sweetness” even further, and we are seeing a flood of Extra Brut, Brut Nature and Zero Dosage Champagnes being pulled from our supplier’s bags. When a massive producer like Roederer, (of Roederer Cristal, that fancy wine I saw some reality television "stars" making mimosas out of) launches a new product for the first time, in 40 years, with their recent release of a Zero Dosage Champagne, well you can bet this is not a passing fad. These are wines with anywhere from 6 to 0 grams of sugar and range from dry to teeth shattering dry and a wonderful span in between. As someone that has spent the past 15 years trying to introduce grower Champagnes to the public I see this, and I hesitate to call it a trend as I do believe these wines have legs as it were, I am both nervous and excited. Excited because so many of these wines are astoundingly complex and nuanced wines, they have to be as there is no added, or very little added, sugar to hide behind. These wines are wine first, bubbly wines second and they are haunting. The part that makes me a tad, (read fuckton) nervous is that whole, “I like a nice dry Champagne” and I fear people aren’t quite, yet, prepared for just how dry these wines are. Only one way to find out right, get on in here people and see what all the buzzy buzz is about.
Our regular and ardent grower Champagne customers have already been working their way through many of these wines, some openly dismissing them as “too dry” or “too serious” and others have been enthusiastically returning, lit up and asking for another. Been saying it for about a year now, never been a more thrilling time to be into or discover grower Champagne and these extra dry wines are just one more, fantastically complex layer to the ongoing saga, how cool is that? Pretty fucking sweet if you ask me....
N.V. Hure Freres Extra Brut Reserve ($49.99)
Francois Hure is exactly the kind of young and adventurous winemaker from Champagne that are leading the charge and creating this palpable energy behind these super dry wines. Not afraid to experiment and share his findings with other winemakers which is the kind of communication that has helped this movement explode. This Brut Reserve is still showing ample fruit but here you get some playful yeastiness and an almost salted crust kind of flavor. Much more on the citrus line of things than the apple or pear but still feminine and a sheer pleasure to drink.
N.V. Demarne-Frison Gouston Brut Nature ($55.99)
A multi-parcel blend of several vineyards of Pinot Noir this gentle and refined Champagne has such a wonderful texture and mouth feel. Loaded with citrus, dried flowers, red cherries and just a hint of beeswax. Very subtle and starkly dry with precision and teasingly tiny bubbles.
N.V. Demarne-Frison Blanc de Blancs Lalore Brut Nature ($68.99)
Made from 100% Organic Chardonnay this wine is all about texture, grace and refinement. Baked green apples, anise, under-ripe pears and night blooming jasmine all with some powerful saturation and a long, long finish.
N.V. Pierre Gerbais L’Audace Brut Nature ($58.99)
Made from another up and comer this zero dosage Champagne is made from 100% Pinot Noir. This is about as dry as any Champagne gets. No sugar to compromise or change the wine, here you are getting the simple purity of the fruit and soil of the region. Loaded with minerals and citrus rind but there is a warming note of freshly baked bread and marmalade. Mouth filling and full of wet stones with layer upon layer that seems to keep reveling itself as the wine opens. Serve with super savory and richly textured foods.
N.V. Marion-Bosser 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Dry ($53.99)
The wines from this domaine often drink like the young and elegant but feisty woman that makes them. Tight frame, strong, classic beauty but with a flirty and open attitude, this Blanc de Blancs is just like that. Super lacy, light and airy on the palate with bubbles so small if you let yourself get lost in the aromas too much you just might miss them. Limestone and citrus upfront with some green apple skin and butter, salty pie crust. Bring on the oysters and seafood.
N.V. Gonet-Medeville 1er Cru Brut Rose Extra Brut ($54.99)
Kind of unusual to have an Extra Brut Rose but this offering from Gonet-Medeville gives us hope that more will be coming our way. Whenever I hear someone say anything about pink and sweet I want to put a bottle of this bone dry wine in their hand. Tart cherries and chalk on the nose, breezy and super refined on the palate with a bright, tangy and tart finish that begs for another sip. Salmon, chicken and pork dishes simply prepared will all be made "Damn...." inducing with the addition of a couple glasses of this.
2011 Ruppert-Leroy Saignee des Cognaux Rose Brut Nature ($68.99)
A brand new addition to our Champagne selection and we couldn’t be more excited about it. Another young female is at the helm of this domaine and I was instantly confounded by the amount of extreme fruit I got in the nose. Pure Pinot Noir aromatics, black cherry, spice and rose petals come leaping from the glass in a way that is not typical of these very low dosage wines. On the palate is where that super dry comes into play and while the wine is retrained there is something of a concentrated nature in this wine, and still with that stark, bone-dry finish. Can’t think of much, I mean other than sweet foods, that this wine wouldn't groan with.
2011 Ruppert-Leroy Martin Fontaine Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature ($74.99)
Not sure how this woman is getting this kind of extraction and explosive fruit but the aromatics on her wines are remarkable. There is a dramatic intensity here, a depth of apples and fresh cut herbs, along with pears and white flowers. One of those wines I couldn’t pull my nose out of the glass and I spun and spun the wine for nearly 10 minutes before it dawned on me that I hadn’t taken a sip yet. The palate mirrors the nose, all that fruit, flowers and herbs but there is an almost ethereal texture and a clean, snappy finish. Unreal.
There you have it, the latest from my wee grower department...just keeps getting more and more exciting and this here big mouth is ready for the next, deep, frothy mouthful. You?