Personally, I don’t think calorie-counting and champagne should ever mix, but then I don’t have to pound the catwalks for a living. Those who do (and I’m thinking of one hard-partying supermodel in particular) are said to favour zero-dosage, the bone-dry style of champagne made without the added sugar that usually puts flesh on the bones of a brut. In the wrong hands, zero-dosage can be horrible – sour, sharp and mean-spirited. But when it’s done well, this niche style can be a delight. I was reminded of this recently when some friends and I shared a preprandial bottle of Pol Roger Pure, a laser-like zero-dosage champagne with mouthwatering lemon-curd acidity and hints of white rose, cut with just the right amount of steeliness. It’s tailormade for seafood – particularly crab.
The only vintage zero-dosage on the market I’m aware of is Louis Roederer Brut Nature, a blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier made, ambitiously, with grapes harvested on the same day, from the same 10-hectare plot in Cumières, and pressed as a piece to create a kind of vinous snapshot of time and place. Conceived in collaboration with designer and oenophile Philippe Starck, this intriguing wine has so far seen two vintages: the 2006 and the recently released 2009, a powerful, zesty champagne with a bite almost like dry cider. The Starck-designed label and coffret – which are unique to each vintage – are pleasingly attitudinous too.
If you’re prepared to allow the addition of a little sugar there’s also the option of extra brut – with a residual sugar level of 6g or less per litre (as opposed to the brut average of around 9g), it tends to offer a little more complexity, while still being seriously dry. A popular extra brut among sommeliers is Gosset Celebris, a prestige cuvée renowned for its high acidity and extraordinary length. At a recent vertical of Celebris vintages hosted by 67 Pall Mall, the newly released 2004 was already showing all the signs of living up to Celebris’ reputation as a gastronomic champagne, with Bramley-apple acidity, aromatic pain d’épices and a buttery tarte Tatin finish that was almost endless.
Another extra brut to see you all the way through to the cheese course is Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra 2003. Deep gold, with tiny bubbles, this blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir spends around 10 years on the lees, giving it an almost sherry-like nuttiness that makes a fine partner for umami-rich mushrooms, sweetbreads and shellfish – just give it plenty of time in the glass.