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Less is not always more...

If you've been to any of the Champagne tastings or seminars I've conducted over the last few years, you have likely heard me speak very passionately about my love of and preference for low or no-dosage Champagnes. Champagnes without the addition of sugar, or without too much sugar at any rate, are becoming more and more popular every day, especially with those of us who have come to love Champagne as a wine with immense capabilities of expressing terroir.

While a Champagne made without any sugar addition may be the purest, un-adulterated and most "natural" expression of what the vineyard and the vigneron have to give - that doesn't mean it is necessarily the "best" wine. Dosage is not always a bad thing. Yes, most industrial-produced Champagne, and what most people drink, has a lot of sugar added - mostly to mask flaws and shortcomings in the underlying wine - but that is not to say that zero added sugar is automatically better.

In the hands of quality-oriented, skilled artisans, dosage is an art - an art that can bring out the best of the underlying wine, to show off the fruit, minerality and aromas in the best light. There is a fascinating article on Peter Liem's excellent that walks through a recent dosage trial at Jacques Selosse in Avize. The piece recounts tasting six different single-vineyard wines, each at six different levels of dosage, ranging from zero to just under 3 grams per liter. It may not seem like much, but an amount as tiny as a half-gram of sugar can make an enormous difference.

In the many dosage trials I've been party to over the years, it never ceases to amaze me how dramatically different the same wine can be at different dosage levels. What is most fascinating, perhaps, is that is often is not a linear process, meaning that higher levels of dosage do not always mean the wine will appear sweeter - in fact quite the opposite at times.

Once one develops a taste for lower or zero-dosage Champagne, it is difficult to go back to wines that have 12-15 grams of residual sugar - at least in my experience. (That's the level of most of the mass-production "Brut" wines on the market, and what most people think of as "Champagne").

One of my current favorites is the Brut Nature from micro-producer Georges Laval in the village of Cumières. Not all of his wines are zero-dosage, however. In some years he'll add a few grams until he finds the right balance point for the wine. Another of my favorites is the NV Grand Brut Ultradition from Laherte Frères, which is technically an Extra-Brut at 6 grams of dosage or less - again depending on the individual cuvée and what the wine needs to achieve its highest peak of expression. The dosage on this wine will also vary as to when during the release cycle it was disgorged - Aurélien Laherte will generally lower the dosage the longer the wine has been on its lees before disgorgement and release - so some of the Grand Brut may actually see only 3 grams of dosage. But we digress...

Bottom line is that there are some, but not a lot of Champagnes that are at their best with absolutely no dosage. The Laval Brut Nature is certainly one of them, in my opinion. It has become fashionable for producers large and small to release more zero-dosage cuvées these days, but many of them are probably not warranted - they would have been a lot better with the deft addition of a small dosage. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that "no additions makes it better" - it's just not true.  Of course the only way to verify this is by tasting, tasting, tasting. We do what we must...