The liquor added to champagne wines just after disgorging, also called “liqueur d’expédition” (expedition liquor) doesn’t just serve to fill the wine level after expulsion of the yeast deposit. As the composition of this liquor, made from still wine and sugar determines the sweetness of the Champagne, it’s the ultimate step to fix the style of the cuvee: From Extra Brut and Brut, through Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec all the way up to Doux, the sparkling wine is more and more sweet. Since a couple of years sparkling wines without any dosage, also called “Brut nature” have become popular. In this case, the added liquor contains no additional sugar at all and a Champagne “Brut nature” is as dry as a dry still wine: no residual sugars left!
“You already think about the final dosage when blending the base wines before bottle fermentation. You are even reasoning about it during the evaluation of grape ripeness and harvest”, admits Hubert Soreau, whose Chardonnay grapes grow in the historical Clos l’Abbé close to Epernay.
To guarantee the balance of the final cuvee, sugar concentration of the expedition liquor has to match with the character of the wine. A rich, full-bodied wine might become heavy if the dosage is to high; A straight, acidity-based wine will taste thin or even hard, if the dosage is not used to cover this acidity. Even aromas and perception of our beloved bubbles may change according to the dosage.
I re-experienced this particularity just recently, lecturing at the Université du Vin Suze-la-Rousse in the Rhône Valley. At our request, Nathalie Vignier from Champagne Paul Lebrun, prepared the same cuvee with different levels of dosage: One Brut (10 g/l) and one Extra Dry (20 g/l). The result of the tasting was intriguing as always.
Already in the glass both wines behaved differently. The Extra Dry showed bubbles and foam of top of the wine which seemed to be bigger and grosser. And while the bouquet of the Brut was pleasant, flowery and of intense fruit, the flowery character was almost completely missing in the wine with higher sugar content. On the palate the difference between the two wines was even more accentuated. Here too, the bubbles felt bigger, even giving some severity to the Extra Brut’s final, and the Brut’s complexity outstood with additional aromas of dried fruit and brioche.
The result of this tasting didn’t surprise Nathalie at all: When we want to make a Champagne Extra Dry or an Demi-Sec, we choose completely different base wines. In the case of higher residual sugar to obtain a flawless balance, the base wine should show more acidity and present perfectly integrated bubbles after bottle fermentation.”