Rising reserves causing sugar levels to fall in Champagne

7th April, 2014 by Patrick Schmitt

Falling sugar levels in Brut NV Champagne are a result of both warmer conditions in the region, but also the rising proportion of reserve wines used in today’s blends.

Barrells-Champagne

The proportion of reserve wine used in today’s NV blends is commonly up to a third

According to Bruno Paillard, who uses a minimum of 33% reserve wine in his Bruno Paillard Brut Premier, “everyone has a lower dosage” in Champagne, and one major reason for this change is the “influence of reserve wines”.

Comparing today’s sugar levels to the early 80s, when Paillard launched his own label, he said it was common to have a dosage for Brut NV Champagne of 15 g/l – the highest level allowed under the “brut” classification at that time.

“In 1981, when I started, I had a dosage of 10 g/l, while most houses were at 15 g/l, and demi-sec Champagne was 30% of sales – globally people had a sweeter tooth than they do today,” he said, speaking to db last month at the annual Champagne tasting in London.

Speaking generally of the region, he cited a growing demand for drier Champagnes as an incentive to lower the dosage – but added that such a development had been made possible by both global warming and the rising use of reserve wine.

“Global warming is a fact,” he said, “but a further factor [for the drop in average dosages in Brut NV Champagne] is the influence of reserve wines.”

With the use of past vintages to bring greater richness in more acidic years, and freshness in hotter harvests, Champagne houses are able to produce a more consistent Brut NV style, which in turn reduces their reliance on a high dosage to smooth out differences from variable vintage conditions.

Bruno Paillard

Bruno Paillard

Paillard picked out the impact of the famously hot 2003 vintage as an example. Rather than relying on this somewhat anomalous harvest for his Brut NV Champagne, which Paillard described as an “unbalanced base”, he increased the proportion of reserve wine to 50% for his Champagne release that was based on that harvest.

Furthermore, he said that temperature control and stainless steel were together allowing producers to increase the use of reserve wines to bring richness and consistency to their Champagnes.

“Keeping reserve wines is more popular and it is easier to do because of temperature control and stainless steel – the greatest progress made in oenology in the last 50 years is due to temperature control, it’s nothing to do with some miracle powder or sophisticated tool.”

But he also said that storing wine for use at a later date was also “easier” because of current low interest rates, which reduced the cost of borrowing money to buy grapes to make wine and Champagne for extended storage.

“The other factor [for the rising use of reserve wines] is the keeping of interest rates at 2-3% – this makes it much easier than when there were 15% interest rates in 1991 and 1992,” he commented.

But, as highlighted in this year’s Champagne Report by the drinks business – which will be distributed with the April edition of the magazine – the greater use of reserve wine has also been triggered by changes in the way that the CIVC regulates Champagne production.

Alterations in 2007 and again in 2011 actively encourage producers to build their reserves, and they are now allowed in certain circumstances to hold stocks of up to 10,000kgs/ha for a limited period.

As a result, the proportion of reserve wine used in today’s NV blends is commonly up to a third, while as recently as the early 90s, only a few major houses boasted using even 15% reserve in their blends.

Finally, the widespread use of a high proportion of reserve wines is one element certain houses believe the Champagne industry should more strongly promote to differentiate the region’s produce from sparkling wines made in other parts of the world.

For a six-page article on the role of reserve wines in Champagne see this month’s Champagne report, out with the April edition of the drinks business.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please note that comments are subject to our posting guidelines in accordance with the Defamation Act 2013. Posts containing swear words, discrimination, offensive language and libellous or defamatory comments will not be approved.

Subscribe to our newsletters

Fine Wine Logistics Coordinator

IG Wines
London, GB

Brand Ambassador East Coast USA - Ableforth’s

Maverick Drinks
New York - field-based, USA

Brand Ambassador West Coast USA - Ableforth’s

Maverick Drinks
San Francisco / Los Angeles - field-based, USA

Global Travel Retail Manager

Maverick Drinks
London, UK

Portfolio Ambassador - Europe

Maverick Drinks
North West Europe - field-based, UK

Senior Partner Manager - Grocery

Maverick Drinks
London/Field Based, UK

Sales Executive

Woolf Sung Ltd
London

Trade Marketing Manager - Maverick Drinks

Maverick Drinks
London / Kent

Business Development Executive Central London

William Grant & Sons UK
London

PR & Communications Officer - Atom Group

ATOM Supplies Limited
London, UK

Crus Bourgeois du Médoc 2015 Official Selection Tasting

London,United Kingdom
21st Sep 2017

The City Wine Show

London,United Kingdom
22nd Sep 2017

Almaviva 2015 Vintage and Vertical Tasting

London,United Kingdom
28th Sep 2017
Click to view more

Global Chardonnay Masters 2017

Deadline : 29th September 2017

The Global Riesling Masters 2017

Deadline : 29th September 2017

Click to view more

The Global Rosé Masters 2017

With wines from the palest of pink to almost ruby red, bone dry to almost cloyingly sweet, reductively handled to barrel-aged, as well as gently spritzy to fully sparkling.

The Global Organic Masters 2017

The drinks business is thrilled to announce the launch of The Global Organic Masters

Click to view more