Summer is the season of great joy and carefree celebration. It is also the time of the year when we are all craving for refreshment, from crunchy salads and ice cream all the way to a cold drink that lifts our spirit. But what shall do we do when the heat makes it impossible to think about all the delicious champagne choices we have? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a selection of ultra-refreshing champagnes that feel like an ocean breeze on a hot summer day!
Serving champagne on ice may be the first thing that comes to many people’s minds, as the category of ice champagnes – specially tailored for or ice cube servings or cocktails – have become a trend in recent seasons and inspired a whole new genre of clientele to turn into champagne lovers. While you can read more about these high-dosage champagnes in another article, we’d like to put a spotlight on the opposite end of the dosage scale today: extra-brut and brut nature champagne.
Although once considered as a tiny, geeky niche without further interest for the masses, these two low-dosage styles have won many champagne lover’s hearts over the last ten years. And to many traditionalists’ surprise, they have even become the go-to styles among knowledgeable champagne connoisseurs.
Climate change and viticultural practices have played important roles in this development. Nowadays, many winegrowers pick their crop at higher maturity levels to obtain more expressive wines, and nature has contributed to this approach with warmer growing seasons that let the fruit ripen more steadily. Of course, each vintage still holds its own surprises – positive and negative – which create the unique vintage variation we love to explore when we taste vintage champagne. Nevertheless, the overall trend to pick at optimal maturity levels has become a rather stable factor, unless very particular weather conditions ask for premature harvest.
Paired with modern wine making technology, the outcome of these higher maturities result in higher natural sugar levels in the must, along with less edgy acidities, and less aggressive phenols. Taking all these factors into account, the base wines are usually broader, rounder, and have a more aromatic spectrum that doesn’t require as much dosage as they used to.
In addition, our modern palates have changed a lot over time, getting to know and learning to appreciate a much wider variety of world cuisines. We’ve rediscovered the taste of ancient vegetables and forgotten herbs our ancestors ate, found an interest in nature-oriented Nordic cuisine, integrated the purity of Japanese sushi into our daily lives, accepted plant based dishes to be whole meals, and constantly chase new trends from foreign cuisines or unknown challenges for our palates.
Within all these discoveries and our ever changing perception of taste, we’ve also come to experience that champagne doesn’t always have to be brut, and that lower dosage champagne can be equally satisfying to our palate. The open-minded approach of seeking a classic brut champagne one day, and an extra-brut or brut nature sparkler the other day, is the easiest way to always find the perfect champagne for a special occasion, a particular mood, or a certain craving.
This is where we come to back to summer. It’s needless to mention that lower dosage champagne can be poured at any temperature and throughout all seasons – they’re just as much a treat in winter or for gastronomic pairings. However, I have a personal obsession with them on canicular summer days when hot air shimmers over the asphalt. Enjoyed in the shadow of a tree, at a lovely beach bar, or under a sunshade, a glass of low-dosage champagne is my personal definition of heaven.
Sipping a glass of extra-brut champagne is just as refreshing as dipping your feet in the pool after a long walk, and a brut nature almost feels like diving all into the cold sea. Don’t forget that Champagne used to be covered by the ocean millions of years ago. All of this freshness is still captured in the soils and vineyards of the region, and the lesser the dosage of a champagne, the more you will unveil a champagne’s oceanic freshness and terroir expression.
The most popular style of low-dosage champagne is the extra-brut category, which is less sweet than the standard brut category. Although the latter remains the most sold category until this day, extra-brut champagne has gained many fans meanwhile. It is perfect for people who look for freshness with just a touch of roundness and sweetness to counterbalance the dryness and add a bit more volume on the palate.
Compared to the classic brut category which allows for up to 12 grams of sugar per liter, extra-brut champagne has a limit of 6 grams per liter. Therefore, it’s less sweet than brut champagne, and often shows a crisp, fresh, and delicately tonic expression.
Some producers label their champagne as brut, although the cuvée has less than 6 grams of sugar. This practice is rather common and correct from a legal perspective, but confusing for the occasional drinker. A champagne house’s decision to label an extra-brut champagne as brut is often made of worry to lose traditional clients who are not yet familiar with the extra-brut category and who suspect such champagnes to be too acidic and dry for their taste. Luckily, most producers indicate the amount of sugar on the bottle in such cases and a look at the back label will usually bring clarity.
To make a first dip into the extra-brut category easy, I’ve compiled five of my favorite cuvées for you.
A summer selection of extra-brut champagne:
Brut nature champagne can also be labeled as pas dosé, non dosé, or dosage zéro. This category requires the champagne to have less than 3 grams of sugar per liter, and no liqueur de dosage (also known as liqueur d’expédition) can be added after the second fermentation.
This “unmasked” brut nature champagne usually has an expressive, tonic expression with lots of vivacity and often discloses nuances about its origin or how it was made.
Just like the extra-brut champagne sometimes may be labeled as a brut champagne, the brut nature category can be labeled as “extra-brut” in rare cases (for example the Pol Roger Pure Extra-Brut mentioned above, which in reality is a non dosé).
As a first dive into the world of brut nature champagne, I’ve also selected five of my favorite cuvées from this category for you.
A summer selection of brut nature champagne:
With one or the other bottle of this refreshing fizz waiting in your fridge, the next heat wave will be a breeze.
Cheers to delightfully refreshing summer days!