Updated: Nov 12, 2020
On the 7th of May, we were joined for an excellent online tasting Eric George of Champagne Forget-Brimont. We explored the theme of dosage and to highlight this we tasted the Brut Premier Cru NV and the 2006 vintage.
Over the hour we spent together, Eric shared some interesting ideas that put a spotlight on some key elements of the wines of Champagne.
1. Dosage is a concept born in Champagne
In recent times, more and more producers in Champagne are moving towards an extra brut style (less than 6 grams per litre) or brut nature (less than 3 grams per litre). Riper grapes dur to global warming is the main culprit, however we shouldn't abandon the tradition which is part of the identity of the king of wines. The concept of dosage is much more complex than just a number. We often hear people say "I only drink extra brut" but I believe that dosage should be relative to the wine it lies with. A few things to take into account;
Different grapes with show more of less acidity and the dosage needs to be adapted to this. Chardonnay has a bright crunchy acidity which benefits from an extra gram or so compared to Pinot Noir which is a lot more fruit forward.
Age has an enormous effect on the acidity of champagne. The same cuvee disgorged after 3 years and 6 years would need a different approach, the older wine would need less sweetness to balance the acidity. The Brut NV we tasted was aged 3 years on lees and had a dosage of 9 grams. The 2006 vintage was aged 11 years and had a dosage of 6 grams.
The ingredients of dosage: Although a lot of chef de caves refuse to answer this question, it is generally a concoction of between 500 and 750 grams of sugar (from cane or beet) per litre. This can be mixed to any wine of champagne so there is a myriad aromatic profiles which can add a final touch to the wine. If the winemaker is happy with the style of wine as it stands, they add a dosage blend that has a similar aromatic profile. If they want to add to the complexity of the wine, they can add some older reserve wines or wines aged in barrel. It is all up to the winemaker. A lot of the mass market players tend to lean towards a cheaper option which is MCR (Mout Concentre Rectifie) which is the colourless non-caramelised syrup of glucose and fructose made from grape must. It can be made by industrial labs or by the winemaker. Some say MCR integrates better to the wine, and ages better. Others say that some source it from the Languedoc region, which would make a mockery of the champagne appellation.
The Forget-Brimont wines are dosed with a blend of sugar cane and their own pinot dominant blends. You can see the process below;
Dosage in the Forget-Brimont cellars
2. Storage is key, and cellars are best.
Correct ageing conditions have a direct impact on the effervescence of champagne. Forget-Brimont is one of the only houses who continues to dig into the chalk underneath their house, and there is a good reason for this. They have close to a kilometre of wines stored deep underground and that ensures consistency in the second fermentation. The cellars stay at a constant 10 degrees celcius which means that the prise de mousse (creation of the effervescence after bottling) takes around 3 months, whereas in a warmer environment it can take under a month. This means the fermentation is rushed and it creates larger bubbles. The other advantage of ageing in natural chalk pit cellars is that it's gentler on the environment. There is no need for big warehouses pumped full of cold air and run on unsustainable power sources as the natural environment is the perfect place for wines to age, both in terms of temperature and humidity.
The drilling machine working away in the cellars
Bottles ageing 'sur lattes'
3. Ratafia was made to toast to new contracts
Ratafia, the fortified grape must from the third or forth press runs and is no secret to the French. It sits around 18% alcohol and is often served as an aperitif.
The name ratafia comes from Latin Rata Fiat meaning to ratify. Back in the XIIIth century, it was drunk as a celebration of a signed agreement, but is making a come back today with small producers who up until recently kept it for their own production enjoyment.
The two wines tasted with Eric
Should you be interested in adding these wines to your collection you can find them in Singapore through La Vigne d'Or: https://lavignedor.com.sg/
Or in Australia through