Essential looks into this growing trend
Most people paying good money to drink a bottle of Champagne would be surprised to learn that any wine carrying the “Brut” label has been sweetened by the process of “dosage” — adding a liqueur made of sugar cane syrup and reserved wine.
This process is used by all of the great Champagne houses and by producers of espumante here in Portugal, Cava in Spain and other producers of bubbles made using the traditional Champagne method around the world.
The reason for adding the sweetener is that the second fermentation of the wine in the bottle, when it earns its bubbles, further reduces the natural sweetness of the wine. Without dosage, most Champagnes would taste unpleasantly tart.
To be classified as Brut, a Champagne must have no more that 12 grams of residual sugar per litre. These days, however, more and more producers are striving to produce high-quality sparkling wines with far lower levels of residual sugar than used in mainstream Champagnes. To be classified as Brut Nature there can be no dosage at all and the volume of residual sugar resulting naturally from the wine must be below three grams. Between Brut Nature and Brut there is Extra Brut, allowing for minimal dosage and up to six grams of residual sugar.
These lower sugar bubbles are of course lower in calories, but it is important to put this into perspective when we consider that a typical fizzy drink such as Coke or 7Up has around 10 times the sugar of a Brut Champagne. Having said that, a normal-sized glass of Brut Champagne carries around 100 calories, which is similar to an average dry white wine. A dryer Brut Nature only has around 60 calories, hardly a difference that would entice most of us to opt for a dryer glass of bubbles for that reason, but considerable if drinking a few glasses.
However, the trend seems to be more about changing tastes and whilst there have long been Brut Nature bubbles on the market, we are now seeing more and more of them appearing. Here in Portugal, two recent arrivals on the market are João Portugal Ramos’s Alvarinho Natural Brut, with just one gram of residual sugar, and Niepoort’s Água Viva, an Extra Brut from Bairrada with 2.8 grams.
An old classic is Spain’s venerable Juvé & Camps Brut Nature, a zero dosage Cava, whilst some of the great Champagne houses have limited editions such as Pol Roger’s Pure Extra Brut. One of the best known is Laurent-Perrier’s Ultra Brut with zero dosage.
These wines are difficult to make, demanding that only the best well-ripened fruit is used as the producer does not have the option of adding sugar at the final stage, the base wine has to be spot on. Such wines will never have the mass appeal of Brut Champagne, and indeed they are not well suited to be served as a party drink. These are wines for those who appreciate a clean, dry wine with real purity of flavour, ideal served as an aperitif and very good with seafood, especially oysters.