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Why Your Next Glass of Champagne Should Be Brut Nature

Why Your Next Glass of Champagne Should Be Brut Nature

How this ultra-dry sparkler became the hottest trend in bubbly

A Bottle of Champagne with Various Accoutrements | Photo Credit: Ruinart

How low can you go? Among savvy wine consumers, an interest in extra brut and brut nature Champagne is on the rise. “We are definitely guilty of exposing more and more guests to this style and, as a result, see more requests for extra-brut and non-dosage Champagnes,” says Benjamin Richardson, owner of Viaggio Wine Merchant in Bend, Oregon. “We have always referred to ourselves as ‘Team Crispy’ because we love very dry and focused expressions of Champagne.”

Low dosage wines with 6 g/L of sugar or less (extra brut and zero dosage) are certainly on the rise, with volumes increasing almost 70-fold in the space of 20 years. There were 6.4 million bottles exported in 2022 according to the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) 2022 Export Report. Historically, Champagne was much sweeter and the American palate is known globally to favor sweet flavors. What is behind this shift? 

“I find that many consumers are gravitating towards this style because the wines come across more balanced and enjoyable,” Richardson says. “They are looking for wines that aren’t as fruit forward and rather showcase more complexity and nuance. I also believe this falls in line with the general evolution of many wine palates. From my experience, when many wine drinkers first enjoy wine, it is more in line with wines that are more fruit forward and come across ‘sweeter.’ Over time I find many of their palates evolve into wines that are drier and more vinous, which I believe coincides with the phenomenon.”

Between the American consumer’s shifting palate, global warming, and improvement in viticultural techniques resulting in riper grapes, more winemakers are finding that they don’t need to add as much sugar to achieve a complex, beautiful wine.

From small grower producers like Christophe Baron who only makes zero dosage Champagnes, to the growing low dosage portfolio of the largest Champagne producer in the world, LVMH, low-dosage Champagnes now represent 3.4% of the volume exported. The US accounts for a quarter of that growth, representing 4.1% of the US market. 

The Birth of Brut Nature

Blanc de Blancs with Oysters | Photo Credit: Ted Nghiem

Laurent-Perrier produced the world’s first brut nature zero dosage Champagne in the 19th century. The House resurrected the style in 1981 with the introduction of Ultra Brut at a time when no other zero dosage Champagnes were being made. Laurent-Perrier president Bernard de Nonancourt approached the CIVC to ask how he should label the Champagne, since no such designation existed at the time. The CIVC did not know how to proceed, so Nonancourt decided to give it the proprietary name of Ultra Brut. It was not until later, thanks to the introduction of this category and the success of it, that the brut nature category was eventually defined as 0-3 g/L of dosage. 

Today, Laurent-Perrier produces two brut nature Champagnes – Ultra Brut and Blanc de Blancs – with the latter being the first ever blanc de blancs made in a brut nature style. Michelle DeFeo, president of Laurent-Perrier US, enjoys brut nature Champagne with freshly caught oysters or rich caviar. “Its high acidity compliments and will not overpower the delicate flavors in simply seasoned or fresh seafood and sushi.”

The pioneering spirit of Laurent-Perrier paved the way for winemakers like Christophe Baron. In 2014, after many years making wine in the Pacific Northwest, the French vigneron returned to where he grew up – Champagne. The newcomer is an anomaly in Champagne, with a philosophy of producing single vineyard, single vintage, single grape, and no dosage Champagnes using 100% Pinot Meunier from the Marne Valley. Although it’s most often used as a blending grape and not nearly as popular as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay for varietal Champagne, the vines on Christophe’s estate are incredibly old, planted between 1925 and 1969. “I use Pinot Meunier because I come from the kingdom of Pinot Meunier,” he says. “I’m working with what my ancestors, my parents gave me.” His Champagne is bottled exclusively in magnums, with just 4,000 magnums made per year, and the first 2014 vintage was released in 2019.

A Changing Climate

Moët & Chandon Chef de Cave Benoit Gouez | Photo Credit: Moët & Chandon

Last year, Ruinart debuted their first new cuvée in over twenty years – Ruinart Blanc Singulier ed 18, which is a brut nature Champagne. “Ruinart Blanc Singulier is a singular expression of Chardonnay revealed by a changing climate,” says Ruinart chef de caves Frederic Panaiotis. “We use what nature gives us. Since the base wines were riper and softer in character, Blanc Singulier ed 18 was made with no dosage. While low dosage may be perceived as a trend in the broader market, for us it is only a consequence of the adaptation of our craft in creating the best expression of Champagne with the Ruinart signature. It is a deliberate choice, challenged every year depending on the blind tasting of the blends, rooted in our commitment to quality and the pursuit of excellence in every bottle.”  

Similarly, Moët & Chandon chef de caves Benoît Gouez may be making lower dosage Champagnes more frequently now, but low dosage is not necessarily the goal. “We strive for a balance in every style we craft, from blending to dosage,” he says. “When I arrived at Moët & Chandon in the late 1990s, the dosage of our flagship Brut Impérial was around 14 g/l to balance higher acidity. But since then, with global warming and the improvement of viticultural techniques, we harvest riper grapes. This, combined with higher proportions of reserve wines and a longer aging time in the cellar, contributes to a natural richness in Moët Impérial that allows us to use only 7 g/l today.” With the Grand Vintage line, the dosage has been reduced from around 11 to 5 g/L of sugar to respect the singularity of each vintage over the course of Gouez’s tenure with the house.

“Even more recently, as I was tasting our newest cuvee d’exception, Collection Impériale Création n°1 maturing in the cellars, I had the intuition that this wine was so delicious by itself that it might not need any sugar at disgorgement,” he says. Thus, for the first time in Moët & Chandon’s 280 year history, they are making a brut nature Champagne, which was released globally October 2023, and is launching in the US this May.

Domestic Champagne Dupes

Winemaker Pauline Lhote | Photo Credit: Domaine Chandon

Even stateside, brut nature is becoming more popular with domestic producers of traditional method sparkling wine. For example, Sparkling Pointe in Long Island, New York debuted their first brut nature in September 2020 after aging for more than three years en tirage. Their brut nature releases are all non-vintage blends. “It is important to create a very specific blend when utilizing no dosage,” says  direct to consumer sales manager Melissa Rockwell. “The original wine must be of stellar quality as there is no wine or sugar addition to change or enhance the primary profile.” The current release is predominantly from the 2019 harvest, but includes reserve wines from the previous four years to add depth and complexity.

“The absence of sugar allows the wines’ natural acidity to shine through,” Rockwell says. “Being a cool maritime climate, we get great levels of acidity while the grapes are still mature enough to develop ripe fruit aromatics and flavors. This natural terroir offered us a wonderful opportunity to create this driest style of wine that is racy and balanced. Plus, it pairs extremely well with the signature shellfish of our region – especially oysters!”

Champagne native Pauline Lhote, director of winemaking at Domaine Chandon, does not currently make a brut nature wine, but she lowered the dosage of Chandon’s flagship Brut after assuming her director of winemaking role in 2017.

“I increased the percentage of our signature Chandon Brut blend that went through malolactic conversion – from about 30 percent to about 70 percent – rounding out any sharp acidity and making the wine slightly softer and more approachable, with additional texture,” she explains. “That softness meant that we were also able to reduce the wine’s dosage from about 10 grams per liter to 8 grams per liter. By increasing malolactic and lowering the dosage just a bit for our Chandon Brut, we’re able to really capture the bright sunshine and approachable fruit flavors of California – my signature style for Chandon.”

Lhote’s newest sparkling wine is her lowest dosage wine to-date, an extra brut reserve sparkling Meunier that clocks in at 4.5g/L of residual sugar.  “As a wine lover, extra brut or lower dosage sparkling wines are intriguing because in some ways they are a pure expression of terroir – allowing the character of the vineyard and the vintage to take center stage.”