On steamy summer days, the first choice for most wine-lovers is a cool, dry, top-shelf champagne. There’s only one problem: most champagnes aren’t dry.
While they might taste dry, champagnes are not technically dry, as a “dosage” of sweetness is routinely added during production, supposedly to balance the high acidity.
Having said that, most champagnes were sweeter a century ago than they are today. Not that there’s been a steady trend towards bone-dry champagnes. In fact, few champagne-makers have changed the style of champagne in the past 50 years, so truly dry bubblies have remained elusive.
Now, though, there’s a delicious evolution taking place in Champagne, France. The boundaries of the region are to be extended as demand for champagne exceeds supply. And champagne is becoming drier.
Wine writers in Auckland were recently shown the world’s most extensive collection of dry bubblies made by French champagne house Ayala.
When little-known Ayala Champagne was purchased by big-name Bollinger in 2005, it needed a point of difference. So its winemakers and marketers decided to reduce the dosage of sweetness from about 12g a litre to 8g a litre. Even more adventurous, they created a completely unadorned bone-dry champagne: Ayala Zéro Dosage. The words “zero dosage” mean the champagne is bone-dry.
The first Ayala Zéro Dosage Champagne was bottled with no label and taken to the biggest wine fair in the world, Vinexpo, in mid-2005 to gauge the reaction of writers, marketers and winemakers. It was a huge hit, especially with wine purists.
The rationale behind zero-dosage bubblies is to show the character of the wine, to let its flavours be honest and transparent, says Ayala’s export manager, Raymond Ringeval, who tours the world launching champagnes.
A handful of other winemakers have also been brave enough to make drier bubblies in the last decade. Interestingly, this trend found its impetus not in France but Australia, where a couple of rule-breakers made Domaine Chandon ZD, sealing it with a crown top to enhance its minimalism.
Tiny quantities of the bone-dry Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut are now being made too.
You may find other truly dry bubblies, but I guarantee you’ll be able to count them on one hand (and probably not on all fingers).
It’s little wonder we reach for beverages other than wine when we need a thirst-quencher. Yet when the right white is bone-dry, it can sate your thirst like nothing else. It’s time more winemakers were brave enough to buck the sweet-toothed trend.
WHAT’S IN A NAME?
What does “NV” on a champagne label mean to the average wine drinker, aside from them knowing that “NV” costs less than “vintage”? “NV” stands for non-vintage, which means the grapes in the wine were grown in different years.
In the Champagne region in France, winemakers may blend grapes from more than one year to achieve consistency of flavour. Considering the well-oiled marketing machine behind champagne, it’s surprising that no one has thought to put a more positive spin on the labelling of non-vintage wine.
What about “MV” (multi-vintage) perhaps? What do you think? Comment at my wine blog.