It’s sometimes assumed that the more lees aging a wine receives, the better off it is. While tasting this morning with Gilles Dumangin of J. Dumangin Fils in Chigny-les-Roses, he pulled out an instructive pair of bottles for us to sample. They were both the same wine, Dumangin’s 1994 vintage, and both dosed at the same level (12 grams per liter). The only difference was that one was disgorged in 2000 and the other in 2002.
Eight and six years, respectively, after their disgorgements, the two wines were very different, and not in a way that I expected. The bottle disgorged in 2000 was developed in flavor but still lively, with firm acidity and balanced notes of cream, butter toffee and dried fruits. It was a delicious example of a well-matured champagne, and one that I enjoyed drinking. The later-disgorged bottle, however, felt much less fresh, with ponderously honeyed, caramelly flavors that made it tiring to drink, and the acidity was much less prominent.
Now, a comparison of only one bottle of each, especially with 14-year old wine, is prone to variability, and you could attribute the latter bottle’s advanced maturity to cork variation or other perturbations common to wine. But Dumangin has consistently experienced the same results, and specifically opened these two bottles to demonstrate this to me, emphasizing that choosing the time of disgorgement is critical to the way a champagne develops. “We’ve realized that when you disgorge the wine when it’s very young, it stays fresh for a long time afterwards,” he says.
What is perhaps even more interesting is that he’s re-releasing the 1994 now as a Vinothèque wine, but offering it as an Extra Dry! I thought that I’d initially heard wrong, and later took the above photo as proof. It’s common that people dose old wines less, but hardly anyone would suggest dosing an old wine more. Yet the wine is delicious, and at 17 grams per liter of sugar, it’s hardly a sweet wine. In fact, it tastes less sweet than some so-called brut NVs out there, the dosage giving it richness of body and texture and expanding the flavors much in the way that a Riesling Kabinett is often more fragrant and aromatically complex than a Riesling trocken. “I tried 12 different dosages, from zero to 24 grams of sugar per liter,” says Dumangin. “We tried blind tastings with our oenologists, looking for the dosage level that developed the aromas of old wine the best. It happened to be at 17 grams.” I always say that each wine finds its balance at a different level, and this wine seems perfectly happy where it is. A terrific and thought-provoking experience.