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High Dosage Champagne: Style & Substance or Too Much Makeup?

Words by Lucy Edwards


I was recently lucky enough to sit down with two of the most influential and knowledgable people in Champagne at the house of Gosset: Chef de Cave Odilon de Varine and Marketing Director Thibaut le Mailloux had very generously taken me for a tour of their stunning cellars in Epernay, and indulged me in a tasting of their current releases culminating in the Celebris 2008 Rose. This was a heavenly experience for me, a dedicated champagne enthusiast for over a decade, known for my inquisitive nature, earning me the moniker "la curieuse," or the curious one


Before heading into lunch, Odilon suggests we try one more wine. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking" says Thibaut? They both smile, and Thibaut returns with a covered bottle and pours a splash of a delicate rose into my glass.



As I take in the first nose, the plethora of aromatics take me back to tender childhood memories. My grandmother's rose scented dusting powder, must sticks I would sneakily pilfer from the pantry, and the strawberry cordial milk drinks we would concoct on hot summer afternoons.


On the palate, there was a clean acid backbone despite its obvious age, but I was surprised to feel a touch more sweetness than the previous wines.

I was tasting the Petite Douceur Rosé, one of the lesser known cuvees of the maison and an Extra Dry. Although I could clearly tell this wasn't a brut, I was very surpised to hear it was 17g dosage.

In today's world of wine connoisseurs, anything sweeter than extra brut is often frowned upon, sometimes attributed to winemakers masking flaws with sugar. I couldn't disagree more. The surge of "on ice" champagnes, designed for clubbers and beachgoers, has cast a shadow on the whole category, unfairly grouping all champagnes with a hint of sweetness into the same cast: often compared to a young woman caked with too much makeup.


It's only fair to insist on the fact that dosage is not just a number. The Gosset approach, where all their wines are tasted blind, exemplifies this. Odilon and his co-cellar master Gabrielle Malagu work with 31 different types of dosage. Each tank is akin to a vial in a spice rack, bringing forth various aromatics in the wine. The grape variety, terroir, and age influence this process, with most dosage tanks comprising Chardonnay or Pinot Noir bases from different terroirs and varying ages.


The same week, I had another enlightening conversation during a tasting with the illustrious house of Billecart Salmon.


“Dosage is very little to do with suger." Says Mathieu Roland-Billecart "More to do with reserve wine. If you try to bring back tension, sugar will be a variable, but not as important as the content of the dosage." At Billecart the team has worked hard to establish a real treasure trove of different dosage liqueurs. When visiting their exquisite cellars, guests can view their 51 tanks of liqueurs , which give them a full palette of aromatic complexity to play around with after disgorgement.

This is a vision that is shared by many of the great growers and maisons. And although many have reeled back their production and dosage overall to appeal to the consumer's desire to drink drier, there are still some amazing sweeter wines out there. These voluptious champagnes are not only an interesting tasting experience, but also widen the breadth of champagne's food pairing capabilities.


Here are some of the best higher dosage champagnes on the market, and a sure fire way to make your tastebuds tingle, and add some extra jingle to your festive table.


 



Gosset Rosé Petite Douceur

Gosset's non-malolactic winemaking make them the best placed house to create something spectacular in this category. This is what former Cellar Master Jean-Pierre Mareigner calls this the "nostalgic Cuvée", which brings back memories of what the region's wine ressembles decades ago.


Blend: 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir including 7% rouge from Ambonnay, Avize, Bouzy, Cumières and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

Vintage: NV with 11 years on lees. 2009 base disgorged in 2021

Dosage: 17 grams - Extra Dry

Food pairing: passion fruit desserts or even a good old-fashioned Crêpe Suzette! It will

also be superb with spicy exotic cuisine, e.g., tajine, caramelised pork, Indian dishes…


 

Virginie T 2009 Extra Dry Special Macaron


When Virginie Taittinger and her son Ferdinand arrived at their meeting with iconic macaron legend La Duree, their hosts expected a tasting of 4 champagnes, a quick discussion on price and within an hour everything would be decided. Instead, they were met with a trolley of 70 different vintages, disgorements with varying levels of dosage for a tasting that ended up lasting almot four hours. Virginie's vision was to create a "haute couture" champagne for the house, and after much deliberation and tasting of champagne and macarons together, it was decided that the best possible pairing was the 2009 vintage with a slighlty higher dosage of 13g. The 2009 is also available in Brut Nature.

Blend: 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay 10% Meunier

Vintage: 2009 - 11 years on lees

Dosage: 13g - Extra Dry

Food pairing: Aside from the obvious macaron pairing, this wine would be excellent with seared foie gras with spiced fig relish and toasted brioche.


 

Selosse Exquise


This is a wine that was created in the 1990s on the request of two of France's most legendary chefs: Bernard Loiseau and Pierre Gagnaire. It was specifically crafted to pair with decadent seasonal fruit deserts.


Blend: 100% Chardonnay from four parcels at the foothills of Oger

Vintage: 2009/2010/2011 blend

Dosage: 22 to 26 grams

Food pairing: Coconut pineapple finger from Loiseau des Sens epic desert trolley, or for a Singaporean pairing, try it with classic pineapple tarts.



 



Billecart-Salmon Demi-Sec


While the Demi-Sec maintains the blend and therefore finesse and elegance of the Brut Réserve, only part of it goes through malolactic fermentation and it has a higher dosage of about 40 grams per litre. The added sugar also increases the potential ageing time, as the house says it can be enjoyed up to 10 years after disgorgement.


Blend: 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 40% Meunier - 50 to 60% reserve wines Partial malolactic fermentation

Vintage: NV with 30 months on lees

Dosage: 40 grams - Demi-Sec

Food pairing: A recommendation fromPastry Chef Gilles Marchal is to pair it with a lemon meringue tart with lime zest: the meringue aspect will bring a balance between the acidity and the sugar that it contains.

 


Philipponnat Sublime Réserve Sec 2008


In perfect harmony with the House's trilogy of vintage wines, Sublime Réserve, a Blanc de Blancs with a dry dosage, has been meticulously crafted to complement haute cuisine with partial malolactic and fermentation in stainless steel only to maintain freshness. The current vintage is 2008, with a whopping 8 years on lees. The perfect acidity of this vintage is the backbone that holds the 30g doage and makes this a wine that will not only age incredibly well, but also a a real wildcard at a blind tasting!


Blend: 100% Chardonnay from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards

Vintage: Blend of four to five different vintages aged for 12 years on lees.

Dosage: 30g - Sec

Food pairing: Charles Philipponnat recommends creamy-textured food, such as foie gras,

meat and poultry cooked with dried or fresh fruit. I can completely see this being a hit with Christmas pudding!



 




Doyard Libertine


Coming in at the top position for sweetest champagne on the list is Doyards every intriguing La Libertine. This cuvée is the culmination of over ten years of research to create a wine as close as possible to the taste characteristics of the early 18th-century sparkling wines of Champagne. There is nothing else like it out there on the market, and it stirs curiosity and enthusiasm in professionals and collectors alike.


Blend: 100% Chardonnay

Vintage: Blend of four to five different vintages aged for 12 years on lees.

Dosage: 65g - Doux . The dosage is prepared with old wines of Champagne (more than 20 years) preserved in jeroboam.

Food pairing: Anything from Roquefort to tropical fruit deserts.


 



Dosage is an integral part of champagne's history. Failing to explore its full potential would be a disservice to the entire world of champagne. I may not have a favourite champagne or house, but I firmly believe there's a champagne for every occasion and perfect pairings for every dish. So, why limit the potential based solely on a number?



 


About the Author

Having worked in the industry since 2009, Lucy is a self confessed champagne nerd. When she joined the French Chamber of Commerce to help grower producers looking to import to Australia, she fell in love with champagne, not because of the glitz & glamour but because of the undeniable mix of art & science required to create the world’s most prestigious wines and the dedication to traditional winemaking. Over the past 12 years, Lucy has consulted to houses such as Jacquart, Pertois-Lebrun & Grande Charte, and was a pivotal in developing the Vranken-Pommery Monopole brands in Asia Pacific over 5 years. She has an acute knowledge of wine and specifically champagne and is passionate about bringing more interesting cuvees to wine lovers and collectors.




Disclaimer: The opinions presented in this article are my own, and do not reflect the points of view of the houses. If you would like to share any additional information, please email me at info@champagneeverday.com.au All images are sourced from the websites and social media of said houses.



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