When it comes to house style and bubbly, few wine lovers give much thought to dosage – after all, the amount of sugar added to the wine after disgorgement and just before bottling is tiny in the scheme of things, less than 12g/L in a Brut Champagne or sparkling wine (see box below).
But the winemakers behind these cuvées understand just how much difference a gram – even half a gram – can make to the taste and overall balance of what’s in the bottle. Some producers, after arriving at a preferred level of dosage, will stick to the same (or as near as) dosage for each vintage, and / or across their range, in a bid to create a house style. Others are more open to varying the dosage according to the style of the vintage, tasting varied permutations every year before deciding on the best recipe for the year.
At Rathfinny Wine Estate in West Sussex, owner Mark Driver is such a strong believer that vintage should be key to the style of the wines that he has chosen not to include a non-vintage cuvée in the line-up. So it follows that he would be open to varying the dosage to best fit the style of wine that weather conditions have produced in a given year.
With the 2019 vintage about to be bottled, Decanter was invited to join the winemaking team at the tasting to decide the dosage for the Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs cuvées for that year. Driver explains why Rathfinny takes dosage so seriously: ‘It’s like seasoning,’ he says, ‘and we use it to enhance the existing profile of the wine without adding new flavours and textures. Sugar is a transport mechanism, and it helps to balance all the elements.’
Driver doesn’t want the wines to be jarringly dry – though jokes that the sommelier community would like all their sparkling wines at 0g/L or 1g/L. ‘When they’re bone-dry, wines can have little spikes,’ he says, ‘and even adding just 1g or 2g/L can help bring things to life.’ Also, he points out, sugar is a preservative and so wines with zero dosage don’t develop as well in bottle, in his view. That said, he doesn’t favour a high dosage either. ‘Too sweet, and the dosage will shorten the length and flatten the fruit flavours.’ The vineyard site – on a south-facing slope just 5km from the English Channel, and sheltered by a ridge from severe frosts and the worst southwesterly winds – allows a longer hang-time for the grapes, and this means that a fairly low dosage can generally be used.
Reflecting on 2019
Sat around the table from Rathfinny were Driver, Tony (his winery manager), Miguel (the winemaker), Alex (who takes over logistics post-bottling), Andy, the sales manager, and Richard (brand ambassador). The wines had been disgorged in November, so the samples had spent a few months under cork, giving the sugar a chance to integrate with the wine.
Asked to summarise how the 2019 vintage played out, Driver explained that the summer was long, dry and hot, just as 2018 had been the year before. Then it started raining towards harvest time, and didn’t seem to want to stop. Several weeks of rain on and off led to worries about dilution, but although some berries did swell, the primary effect of the rain was to bring down the acidity. The long ripening season meant that the flavours were still there, and sugar levels were still high because of the hot weather. Quantity wise it was quite a small vintage, especially for the Pinots.
Winery manager Tony managed the tasting, which commenced with the Blanc de Blanc, then moved on to the Blanc de Noirs. For each wine, we started with 0g/L and 6g/L (typically the upper end for Rathfinny) and worked our way in, tasting pairs of samples, 1g/L and 5g/L, 2g/L and 4g/L and then 3g/L. Samples with half-gram variations could be called on as needed.
A fine balance
Once we’d all tasted from 0g/L to 6g/L, Driver asked everyone in turn for their preference, and the reason behind it. In general there was consensus: …
Source : https://www.decanter.com/learn/dosage-behind-the-scenes-497768/