Speaking of putting more information on the label, brooklynguy raised the point yesterday about revealing the amount of dosage. I agree with him — I enjoy seeing this information, and it’s useful to me. But I can see why producers wouldn’t want to do it. It’s even more fraught with danger than putting the disgorgement date on the label.
The first problem is that, as with anything in the world of wine, dosage needs to be put into context in order to be properly understood. For example, one of the considerations is the vintage, or the base year for non-vintage wines (information that is even less likely to appear on a label than dosage): six grams of sugar per liter is going to taste very different in a high-acid vintage like 1996 than in a low-acid vintage like 1999. The amount of reserve wine used, and the type of reserve wine, is also going to affect the balance. You and I know this, and can properly adjust our mental state, but the majority of consumers won’t or can’t adjust their perceptions. A number has a feeling of concreteness and security, and a dangerous misperception that is all too prevalent right now is that a lower dosage is necessarily and automatically better. (And I’m not exempting wine professionals, many of whom ought to know differently.)
The second problem is that getting the correct balance of dosage is not at all a formulaic process. You cannot simply say, “Well, I’ve got x grams per liter of acidity here, therefore I need to add y grams of sugar.” I think of it this way: each wine has its point of optimum balance, which is individually determined by the unique set of characteristics of that particular wine. The trick of a dosage tasting is to find that balance point. As I’ve said before, dosage can fool you very easily, no matter how experienced of a taster you are. (I’ve been in tastings where I swore the 4 g./l. sample tasted perceptively sweeter than the exact same wine dosed at 6 g./l., even after I knew which was which.) Sometimes a wine balances at six grams, sometimes at ten, sometimes at none at all. But each one is different. It’s like taking ten twigs of different shapes and sizes and trying to find the fulcrum point of each. You can’t just measure x number of centimeters and expect it to work for all of them. This is the primary reason why a lower dosage is not automatically better, and the reason why many producers don’t want to reveal the dosage. They just don’t trust us to understand the concept.
Numbers can fool you even in finished champagnes. To cite examples just from wines that I’ve tasted within the last week or so, Françoise Bedel’s Dis, Vin Secret, is dosed at 11 grams per liter, yet it tastes much drier than that due to its extraordinary balance and expression of soil character. Ployez-Jacquemart’s Extra Quality Brut, on the other hand (I don’t mean to pick on them, because they do make wines that I like), has a dosage of only four to six grams per liter, depending on the blend, yet every time I taste it I feel like it tastes much higher.
But to get back to putting dosage on the label, I don’t think it’s nearly as important as the disgorgement date. If a wine tastes balanced, that’s good enough for me. But I admit that I really do like it when producers do it. It’s useful information to me as a taster, and beyond that it also reminds me that this producer really thought about his or her dosage — people who put dosage on the labels are generally among those who obsess over each cuvée, trying to get the balance perfectly right, rather than those who just throw in a knee-jerk amount of sugar every year. I doubt it will ever become a widespread practice, however. It’s just too risky.