Why is champagne getting drier?

peter_wasserman_175Champagnes seem to have been getting drier in recent years. What’s driving the trend? I put the question of declining Champagne dosage levels to Peter Wasserman today. Wasserman, along with his mother Becky, exports several grower champagnes including Godmé Pere et fils, José D’hondt, Camille Savès, and Vazart-Coquart.

Wasserman said there are three main reasons. First, climate change. As harvest gets longer, the pick dates get later meaning that the fruit is riper, as he put it being harvested at “optimum maturity. So there’s less searing acidity that needs balancing with the addition of the liqueur d’expedition.

Second, the wines are seeing more time on the lees. A decade ago, it was common for grower champagnes to give the wines two and a half years on the lees, spent yeast cells that imbue the wine with more flavor as it remains in contact with them. Now, three or four years is not uncommon. This depth of flavor also reduces the need to add sugar.

Third, the global sommelier culture is driving dosage levels lower. Sommeliers, he said, taste a lot of wines and especially value light and bright champagnes. They wield an outside influence today.

On that last point, I asked him if people talk dry and drink sweet? Absolutely, he said, modifying it to “drink rounder.” Even if somms like the drier style, not all of their customers do.

“Our three best selling champagnes all have 8 or 9 grams of residual sugar,” he said.

Steering away from an outright amount residual sugar, he said, “The Holy Grail is balance.”

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