#16: A deep dive into dosage in sparkling wine, and what I named... Dosage after
Dosage has nothing to do with a prescription, but let's just say a spoon full of sugar can help the champagne go down 🥂
I have my WSET Certificate exam tomorrow, so this one is like a little recap session for me! I have to blind evaluate a red and a white wine that is about as stressful as it sounds. Pray that I get a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and a Barolo on my hands, as they’re ones that you can whiff a mile away.
I thought I’d cover a little on what dosage means, and where I got the name for this lovely space that brings me joy!
A little more on this guide further on…
Dosage is the traditional term for the tweak of sugar that’s added before a cork is popped on a bottle of champagne, but also for other wines made in the same style.
While this sounds weird, it’s pretty common in the wine trade. What’s left in the what’s in the bottle is bone dry and for most tastes, you want a little seasoning to help make it a beaut. Brut means a pinch of sugar has been added, sec is more like a few pinches - but it’s always dry to the palette.
Champagne is up there in the wine world as an affordable luxury (depending on the house in question) and a universal symbol of celebration in alcohol-drinking cultures. You may have heard of its discovery as a Newton-esque apple on head ‘aha!’ moment of a monk. It’s always the monks inventing booze.
In reality, Champagne was the collective ignorance of communes growing some grapes entirely unsuited to its relatively chilly climate. If you were to drink a still wine made before the bubbles, it would, quite frankly, be inspid pish. But the French being the French found a way to bring elegance, body and sophistication to make this chic. Exclusive. Divine.
Comment ça fait?
Champagne is a laborious process to make. Once you’ve got your base wine, it ain’t a case of adding a SodaStream attachment to the oak casket and bobs your uncle. The wine is popped into more bottles with a top up of yeast and sugar before they’re covered in a crown cap bottle tap - like you’ll get on a beer.
Over the mandatory 12 months that the champagne needs to be with this extra lees, two things happen:
The yeast produce more alcohol and carbon dioxide, and also bring the acidic sharpness down a notch. As that’s got nowhere to go, it dissolves back into the wine generating the fizz.
What’s also happening is that the yeast die into a smush known as lees. The more contact you give a white wine with yeast, the more it starts to add this bready, toasty vibe that can help round it and add a little of body.
Old champagne used to be popped and drank full of this sediment, while now we have a process that the yeasts are frozen, popped out of the bottle and a little bit of additional liquid (some extra wine in case any is lost, and a splash of sugar, ahem - dosage) before it’s corked. Ta da! Champagne.
Other sparkling wines that are made in this way vary hugely around the world. In France, we’ve got Crémant, Franciacorta in Italy and Cava in Spain. Some English sparkling wines go through this too, but not all. But in countries such as the US, NZ, SA and Australia these will have “traditional method” or “methode cap classique” somewhere on the label.
What about Dosage in Prosecco?
So, Prosecco is made in a different way where the wine sticks in a vat, and the bubbles come from the increase of pressure rather than keeping the lees on the wine. It’s more of a stack ‘em high sell em’ cheap style - where it doesn’t need to be aged in the bottle or get those toasty notes. Besides, Glera (the grape that’s used to produce it) is quite floral, which adding in lees will just break down. Generally, this style of making sparkling wine is favoured for more aromatic grape varieties, mainly Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc for those that are fans.
Unsure what style of sparkling is a bit. of you?
I’ve covered some aspects on sparkling wine pairings in a previous that I’ve linked below. This gives a rough guide and where they come in for pairings with food:
However, as with most things, I like to pop in an easier way to guide you to what you like. Enter to the ring, my Cosmo-quiz inspired spectrum on how to interpret your way to the best sparkling wine for you.
Thank you for reading Dosage. This post and guide are public, so feel free to pass on to any fizz lovers!
Want to learn more about fizz?
I came across a fellow Substacker that’s covering Champagnes and other fizz in a lot more depth than I probably will ever, but is a charming read for anyone planning on delving in more.