Yesterday, Leslie and I experienced a life-altering transformation at 20 Rockefeller Plaza, while imbibing at The Institute of Masters of Wine Annual Champagne Tasting, held at Christie’s. It was here that we encountered our genie in a bottle, unclothed, pure, raw, in-the-buff, poured from bottle to glass, and slipped past lips–Zero Dosage; Champagne without the addition of liqueur d’expédition, a mixture of sugar and wine.
Two hours and 126 Champagnes, including Extra Brut, Blanc des Blancs, Non-Vintage, Rosé, Vintage, and Dosé. Overwhelming is an understatement. I made my way through thirty. Sip, swallow, sip, spit, repeat. For the first hour, I kept it stone-cold sober–sipping through a sea of rosés, scribbling notes. And then, when the crowds thinned out, I joined Leslie at the table of Blanc des Blancs, which is where I swallowed and discovered Naked Champagne.
The first time I learned of the Champagne process, I nearly wept. It’s effervescent poetry, words and sensorial delights popping off the tongue through time…a flick of the wrist, riddling the bottle just right. But I’m jumping ahead–Straight to the Top “just like a champagne bubble, pop, pop, pop…” (plug Tom Waits here)—and so must descend to the start…
It begins with a gentle pressing of the grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Pinot Meunier; and is followed by a first fermentation, before the wines are blended. A dose of liqueur de tirage is then added–a medley of sugar, wine, yeast nutrients, and a clarifying agent–before bottling and then, in a preferably cool Champagne cave, the bottles are put to rest. Horizontally they lie for their second fermentation, and here is where the bubbles are born. As the yeasts process the sugar, they produce alcohol and CO2, and then they die, before beginning the process that yields the yeasty, bread-like, toasty notes that Champagne is known for, a process called yeast autolysis (self-digestion), that can take up to four or five or ten years long!
Laid horizontally (sur latte) the dead yeast (lees) deposit is forced to one side. Riddling (remuage)–traditionally by hand–rotates and moves the bottle from its horizontal position until it’s cork-side-down, forcing the deposit into the bottle’s neck. The wine may spend some time in this position (sur pointe), until the sediment is disgorged, and this is when dosage is done–the addition of wine and cane sugar syrup to sweeten or de-acidify the wine, and to top off what’s been disgorged or lost.
Without this dosage, the Champagne is classified as Brut Nature, Brut Zero, Ultra Brut, or Zero Dosage–all of which, with 0-2 grams of sugar per liter, are bone dry. The Drappier Brut nature Zero Dosage is the first of such Champagnes that I have tried–and this is when the phrase NAKED CHAMPAGNE was coined. Stripped down bare, with red Pinot fruit but no fluff, it’s a dirty Champagne–earthy, and yeasty–high acidity, a little spice, and creamy bubbles that dance on the tongue, lingering into the sunset, long after the party is done. After a few sips, I swallowed and flushed; suddenly even my clothes felt like too much.
The second NAKED CHAMPAGNE appeared in the form Ayla Brut Zero NV. If you happen to come across any web pages that market this as a “sugarfree” or “low-calorie” Champagne, simply smash your computer against the wall and pop the nearest cork. What gimmick-garbage, what idiots; as if Champagne were nothing more than Diet Coke! This NAKED CHAMPAGNE took us to the surface of the earth and rubbed our senses in dirt. With notes of yellow citrus and a touch of fungi on the nose, the Ayla Brut Zero has a slate (bordering on graphite), mineral finish, and is clean earth au natural, or as Leslie stated, “A porn movie in your mouth.”
I regret that there were too many Champagnes to write about–and perhaps in this speed-date process, my notes are a little spare. However, the discovery of NAKED CHAMPAGNE delights me, and I cannot wait to seek more. If you’ve any others to recommend, or have any thoughts, please shout out loud below.