Fine-tuning Champagne….without a dose of sweetness…

Dosage, or the addition of a judicious amount of sweetness into a finished Champagne just before release, has been an important part of the region’s winemaking process ever since Champagne was invented as a sparkling wine. Today, however, many producers are reducing the level of dosage in their Champagnes. Some are choosing to dispense with it altogether.

It ties to a recent trend in Champagne – the proliferation of zero-dosage cuvées, also referred to as non-dosé or brut nature. At their best, these Champagnes offer a scintillating liveliness and clarity of expression, showcasing their winelike fruit flavors and emphasizing their chalky minerality.

At Larmandier-Bernier, Pierre Larmandier has been making a brut nature called Terre de Vertus since the 1995 vintage, sourced from parcels that yield exceptionally ripe grapes. “When we first created it,” says Larmandier, “we found that the wine was already harmonious as it was. It didn’t need any dosage.”

Emmanuel Fourny of Veuve Fourny also specifically selects old-vine parcels and parcels prone to high natural ripeness to make his Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature. “For a brut nature you need more substance,” he says. “My goal is to get a natural roundness and richness through a selection of vines and a selection of terroir.”

Not Just About Sweetness

Dosage is typically thought of as a measure of sugar: Add more if you like a sweeter Champagne, use less if you prefer a drier one. This view is oversimplified, though, as the overall harmony of a Champagne relies on the interaction of the dosage with the wine’s other components.

Most notably, Champagne’s naturally high acidity can be overly aggressive; historically, dosage has helped to bring it into better balance.

Tasting the finest examples of undosed Champagne, you realize that the region’s elite growers have actually succeeded in creating an entirely new style of Champagne. These can be a joy to experience: the unmitigated minerality of the Terre de Vertus; the seamless harmony and grace of Franck Pascal’s Sagesse; the vinous intensity of the wines of Vouette et Sorbée.

Champagnes like these are derived from a different paradigm than those made in the classical style, striving for a different type of expression. Traditional Champagnes by houses such as Louis Roederer or Bollinger, or grower Champagnes like Vilmart and Henri Billiot, use the dosage to balance the wine’s other components and amplify the fruit flavors, creating a rounder, more generous and often more complex wine. Non-dosé Champagnes, on the other hand, tend to thrive on a sense of transparency and a sleek, unadorned minerality.

Achieving Harmony

To be successful, a non-dosé – or undosed – Champagne must have sufficient depth and presence to achieve harmony without added sugar. This means the grapes must be riper and more concentrated.
“We have seen a progressive decrease in our dosage almost equally in parallel with our improvements in viticulture,” observes Jean-Hervé Chiquet, owner of the Champagne house Jacquesson.

When the balance isn’t right, though, and particularly when a non-dosé Champagne lacks the depth from the vineyard to back it up, the acidity can feel steely and harsh, and the fruit meager, flattened and inexpressive.

It’s possible to create a properly balanced Champagne that doesn’t include added sugar at all. But most of the time, simply reducing the level of dosage on an existing brut cuvée doesn’t work; the balance of the wine is lost. The final acidity should be appealingly vital and brisk rather than piercing, with the ripe depth of fruit playing the ameliorating role that dosage otherwise does.

Dosage is a hotly debated issue in the region. Even among Champagne’s elite growers, not all agree that non-dosé represents an ideal solution.

“I’m not necessarily a partisan of zero dosage,” says Francis Egly of Egly-Ouriet, who believes that small amounts of dosage bring his wines into better balance. “I compare it to cooking – you need to find a balance to bring out the best in a dish. Sometimes a Champagne will have a slight bitterness that disappears with just a touch of dosage.”

What’s important to remember is that dosage is much more than just a sweetener. “Dosage exists as an agent for harmony and balance,” says importer Terry Theise. “Many Champagnes are low in pH and can be shrill or bitter without dosage.”

It’s not always easy to achieve that harmony. Sometimes it can seem as if wines are being forced into a lack of dosage out of fashion or ideology rather than allowed to naturally find a balance on their own.

Ultimately, the question that wine drinkers should ask isn’t whether a Champagne contains dosage or not, but whether the wine is harmonious.

“The point, always and forever, is to taste, and be guided not by some doctrine you’ve promulgated,” Theise says, “but by your palate and your simple wits.”

The Chronicle

Once Upon A Dream Sleep Capsule Debuts At DesignMiami Along With a Flute of Veuve

Created by designer Mathieu Lehanneur, Once Upon A Dream is an innovative sleep capsule combining the best in science and design. It was unveiled for the first time in the US at DesignMiami, held from 30 November – 5 December 2010. DesignMiami is the marketplace for limited-edition design in Florida.

The sleep capsule has been designed to create a space that evokes resynchronization through touch, sight, smell and sound. The innovative design of sleep capsule, manufactured in Italy, provides ideal condition for a good sleep; from precisely the right temperatures to the right lighting. A hanging live plant, which is powered with a low grade current flowing through it, helps in enhancing the ambience.

In celebration of its US debut during DesignMiami, Veuve Clicquot has offered champagne bedtime stories in the Once Upon a Dream sleep capsule for guests, a luxurious experience which included a flute of Veuve Clicquot with each reading.

SCIENTISTS FINALLY LEARN WHY ALCOHOL IS GOOD FOR YOU

When you raise a glass to toast with champagne this Thanksgiving, you are doing your heart a favor, according to a new study.

The results of the study revealed how moderate alcohol consumption can help to prevent heart disease by blocking the signals of molecules linked to plaque build-up in arteries. The molecules, called “Notch” proteins, are vital to embryonic development, and in adults, they help control the tiny, involuntary muscles that regulate blood flow though arteries. When Notch molecules are stimulated — by high levels of cholesterol, smoking or changes in blood flow — they spur these smooth muscle cells to multiply, which can lead to development of arterial plaques, said study researcher Eileen Redmond, an associate professor in the department of surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

But when these smooth muscle cells are exposed to alcohol, the Notch signaling is blocked, and the cells in the arterial wall don’t grow and thicken, Redmond said.

Drinking “small amounts, regularly, is how to get the best effect,” she told MyHealthNewsDaily. “It’s the people who drink one to two drinks a day who have the best protection” from heart disease. However, large amounts of alcohol and binge drinking can be harmful to the heart and can lead to stroke, according to the American Heart Association.

The study was published Nov. 18 in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
Testing the Theory Researchers grew cells from human coronary arteries in dishes, and exposed them to alcohol. They found that alcohol stopped growth of the arterial cells by putting the brakes on the signaling abilities of Notch, Redmond said.

Then, the researchers tested the effects of alcohol in mice. They gave one group of mice the equivalent of two alcohol drinks a day, and another group no alcohol. Mice given the alcohol had less Notch signaling, and their blood vessels walls were thinner than the mice that didn’t drink, according to the study.

The finding demonstrates how alcohol works to benefit the heart — and paves the way for future research for a drug that can mimic alcohol, Redmond said. “If we can understand the mechanisms mediating the beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption, we can develop therapy that can mimic good effects without the intoxicating and deleterious effects of alcohol,” she said.

Real-life Applications

The finding supports evidence from other studies that modest alcohol consumption is good for heart health. A study presented at an American Heart Association meeting this month found that male heart bypass patients who drank lightly or moderately were less likely to need another heart procedure or suffer a heart attack or stroke than patients who didn’t drink.

But what counts as a “healthy” dose of alcohol? The Mayo Clinic recommends healthy women drink no more than three drinks on one occasion, or seven drinks a week, and healthy men ages 65 and younger drink no more than four drinks per occasion, or 14 drinks a week. Healthy men ages 65 and older should drink no more than three drinks per occasion, or seven drinks a week.

A 12-ounce beer, 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits counts as one drink, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Salud!

My Health News

Linthwaite House Hotel in Cumbria is the annual winner of the Condé Nast Johansens Champagne Taittinger – ‘Wine List of the Year’ award

The judging panel for the awards included; Justin Llewelyn, ambassador for Champagne, Taittinger Sarah-Jane Evans, MW and wine editor of BBC Good Food and Olive Magazine, Andrew Warren, managing director, Condé Nast Johansens and Fiona Patrick, client services director for Johansens who acted as facilitator and joint organiser.

Judges described the wine list at Linthwaite House Hotel as: “A really well put together list which is easy to read, educational as well as humorous and a joy to handle.”

Lynn Murray, marketing director of Hatch Mansfield – the sole UK agent for Champagne Taittinger – said: “Linthwaite House Hotel has a truly impressive list and offers choice at great value, an important consideration in these challenging times.”

Carol Emmas, Harpers