Dosage Zero, Champagne Paillard with Crofton Cheese
Dosage Zero is a specialist Champagne from Bruno Paillard. I’ve written about this Champagne House previously, so rather than repeat myself, see here for my piece on what Champagne Bruno Paillard is all about. In style, the wines from this Champagne House are usually Extra-Brut, with minimal residual sugar, designed to let the land and climate speak clearly. However, Dosage Zero takes this one step further and is a style produced by relatively few Champagne Houses. It’s brut-ist of the brut, but not brutish, as you might say after a few glasses.
Dosage is part of the traditional method of making Champagne and other sparkling wines, where it determines the final sweetness of the wine produced. That’s long been the secret of success in such a northern latitude as Champagne, where ripeness can still be problematic despite climate change.
With Champagne, the secondary fermentation that adds the bubbles is carried out in the bottle. Once this is complete, the wine matures on the lees in that bottle. Then, the wine is disgorged to remove the sediment, and the opportunity comes for adding extra sugar. In French, this is called the liqueur d’expédition, which is usually a mixture of the same wine to top up the bottle, plus some dissolved sugar syrup. The bottle is then corked up. The majority of Champagne made these days is in the Brut (dry) style.
Most Champagne and similar wines are usually so high in acidity that they need additional sugar to balance them. In other words, balance means that no single element of the final wine is too prominent on the palate. There is a classified scale of sweetness based on residual sugar. So for example, Extra Brut is between 0-6 g/l, Brut is <12 g/l, while demi-sec is 32-50 g/l. Such can be the acidity that even wines with relatively high added sugar can still taste bone dry. Indeed, if you ever taste Champagne base wines after first fermentation but before the bubbles are added (known as Vin Clairs), you may fear for your tooth enamel!
A question of balance
Dosage Zero wines (also sometimes known as Brut nature, Brut sauvage or pas dosé), as the name implies, avoid adding any balancing sugar. To make this utterly naked style and still produce balanced Champagne is, therefore, a remarkable and challenging feat. It’s an illustration of the winegrowers art in extremis. While this style has become better known and is a growing category, only a few dozen Champagne producers make it. Of the well-known producers, they include the likes of Roederer, Laurent-Perrier, Drappier, Philipponnat and Pommery. Now with Dosage Zero you can Bruno Paillard to that list.
Bruno Paillard makes his Dosage Zéro by combining several critical elements to achieve that elusive balance. These include:
- A high proportion of fifty per cent reserve wines in the non-vintage blend from thirty locations. These date back to 1985, blended in a solera system – you need a high percentage of reserve wines from older years to tame the acidity. A significant component is also the 2000 vintage of unreleased Bruno Paillard Nes Plus Ultra cuvée, sourced from reopened bottles;
- Unusually, a high 50% of fruity and natural sugar-laden Pinot Meunier (plus unstated amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) from around Cumières in the Vallée de la Marne and also in the Montage de Reims;
- All organic farming (and in some cases, biodynamic conversion);
- Bruno Paillard owns 70% of his grapes, so can decide on optimal picking to control acidity and ripeness;
- Only first press wines used – the best juice;
- Fermentation is mostly in old oak barrels, so I assume the malolactic fermentation occurs, at least in part, which softens the acidity;
- Forty-eight months on the lees adds yeast autolysis flavours, followed by another year after disgorgement in February 2018 to settle down.
If creating this style is so difficult, then why do it? I’m tempted to answer “because we can”. Joking aside, Dosage Zero is a specialist Champagne, made only in small quantities. However, it demonstrates the winegrowers art and attention to detail; it suggests mastery and control over the entire process, and it produces an expression of Champagne’s terroir.
In any case, never underestimate the value of prestige, where the top wines always push the edge of the envelope in some way.
A Champagne for those that like to explore
Dosage Zero is a fascinating and individual Champagne; ideal for those that want to explore different styles.
After all that, how does it taste? Of course, it’s bone dry, with an elderflower and almond perfume. But the key here is the balance on the palate. Softer, filigreed acidity that preserves freshness, accompanied by citrus, pear and apple fruit, with leesy flavours and savoury notes. Slow bubble streams and tiny bubbles. Hazelnut, shortbread biscuit and a final salinity on a long length.
Subtle. Nothing aggressive, just purity and elegance.
Dosage Zero is a specialist Champagne that demands food. It matches with cheeses particularly well. In France, the usual suspects such as Chaorce, Brillat-Savarin or an aged Brie-de-Meaux would be lovely companions.
From our shores, I tried Dosage Zero with the artisanal raw-milk cheeses made by Thornby Moor Dairy in Cumbria. In particular, their Crofton cheese proved to be a fabulous match. Nothing else needed, though some crusty bread hits the spot.
Thornby Moor Dairy started in 1979, run by Carolyn Fairbairn, who is entirely self-taught. In 1994 the dairy expanded and Carolyn’s daughter Leonie joined her. The dairy only uses single herd raw milk, and Crofton unusually has using a 2:1 ratio of cow and goat milk. Made entirely by hand, it’s semi-soft, mould-ripened, naturally rinded, creamy and with a lingering mushroom complexity.
Talking with Leonie Fairbairn, I soon realised that Crofton is every bit as carefully made as Dosage Zero. Hence, it matches it in artistry as well as in flavour and texture. This cheese has just won a Gold Medal at the annual Artisan Cheese awards. I recommend a visit if you’re in Lakeland.
Dosage Zero is £49.80 at Hedonism Wines
Crofton is available in speciality cheese shops and restaurants. Or buy from the dairy or online at £12.00 per 300g
Champagne Bruno Paillard
Avenue de Champagne
Thornby Moor Dairy
Who knew there could be a link between Reims and Carlisle?